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Statement by Ambassador Dennis Shea at the May 15, 2020 General Council Meeting
May 15, 2020

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is nice to see everyone today, albeit virtually. I hope you and yours are safe and well.

Progress at the WTO – however one defines it – is long fought, hard fought, and incremental. Unfortunately, none of these characteristics comport with a fast moving, deadly pandemic.

All of us have had to react quickly to COVID-19 to protect the lives of our citizens. This is the most basic responsibility of sovereign governments. And while transparency regarding the temporary trade-related measures we are putting in place is important, we all assume that, in a public health emergency, countries will rightly prioritize the health and safety of their own citizens. The export restrictions enacted by individual EU member states as the pandemic spread out from Wuhan and began decimating parts of Europe is a reflection of this common understanding. The United States, too, has imposed temporary export restrictions, which we have duly notified here at the WTO.

More Americans have been infected with and died from COVID-19 than any other nationality. As of yesterday evening (May 14), the United States counted over 1.4 million known COVID cases, and nearly 86,000 deaths. This is a third of the world’s reported cases, and more than a quarter of the deaths. So please understand these urgent matters of life and death back home have clear priority over any effort we may undertake at the WTO.

At the same time, we are fully aware that it is important to bolster the economy, at home and worldwide, as the courageous health professionals and scientists continue their vital work. To this end, the United States has undertaken the following efforts with the hope that other countries are encouraged to act commensurately.

As of May 1, the U.S. Department of State and USAID have pledged more than $775 million in COVID-specific emergency funding to the world’s most at risk countries.

Private American businesses, nonprofits, charities, and individuals have collectively provided nearly $4 billion in donations and assistance, in addition to government aid. Together, Americans have provided nearly $6.5 billion in government and non-government assistance and donations to the global COVID-19 response, accounting for nearly 60 percent of global totals.

The United States Federal Reserve has taken aggressive actions to support markets, businesses, and financial stability at home, providing lending up to $2.3 trillion to U.S. households and businesses. The Fed has also cut the rate it charges on exchange swaps with central banks for countries all around the world.

The United States Congress has appropriated well over $3 trillion in economic support, a sum equivalent to 15 percent of U.S. GDP, and 3 percent of world GDP.

All these measures are helping to encourage international financial stability. And by supporting American businesses and families, the United States is promoting sustained spending to meet the needs of its citizens and industries – which in turn helps to keep trade flowing and supports economies around the world. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau reports $194 billion in imports of goods and $38 billion in imports of services this past March – including a $9 billion increase in goods imports from the European Union.

So with respect to the economics of this crisis, the United States is acting with urgency, on a large scale, and to national as well as global benefit.

It is crucial that we continue to investigate the origins of the pandemic and the circumstances that led to a severe supply shortage of personal protective equipment on the global market as the pandemic’s devastating impact became apparent.

Like others, the United States recognizes that overdependence on a handful of countries as a source of cheap medical products and supplies has created a strategic vulnerability to our economy. We are looking to diversify supply chains and increase manufacturing capacity back home.

Once the exigencies of the current crisis subside, the world’s attention will turn to recovery as well as preparation for the next global crisis, including what role the WTO may have in these global endeavors.

With much of the world in the throes of the pandemic, our primary focus rightly remains on the health and safety of our citizens. But it is hard to ignore the existential crisis in which this institution finds itself.

We strongly encourage those interested in creating a more effective, consequential WTO to re-examine U.S. reform proposals, including those dealing with market-oriented conditions, special and differential treatment, and notification compliance, and to appreciate the positive signals that action on this agenda would send.

Thank you.