COVID-19 AND FREE TRADE: The Case for Suspending Trade Rules – Unions For Trade Justice

COVID-19 AND FREE TRADE: The Case for Suspending Trade Rules

The crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is exposing the implications of the current international trade regime for progressive government responses and international cooperation. Governments are looking at creating more legal space to overrule patents, sharing of pathogens data to foster multiple opportunities for research, directing production and taking control over private health facilities in defiance of the standards enshrined in the trade regime.

Yet, trade negotiations are still ongoing, at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as well as to advance the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP-11), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). There are also signs that companies are readying to use the infamous Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism to counter governments’ decisions taken in the public interest in the wake of the crisis.

Several countries in the Asia Pacific region have now started easing up on their lock-downs. The challenges before them are immense; the pandemic has taken countless lives, wrecked economies, wiping out millions of small and medium enterprises and resulted in job losses at a scale never seen before. Trade unions and civil society organisations are concerned that trade commitments will bind the hands of governments in enacting policies that will help deal with this pandemic, bring back jobs and create robust public health systems that can stave off future crises.

Unions and civil society allies have raised that instead of furthering trade negotiations, governments should concentrate their efforts to tackle both the health, economic and humanitarian crisis that has been created by this pandemic, halt ongoing negotiations and begin a review of the impact of the rules of the trade regime in light of the current context.

On 28 June 2020, Public Services International and Education international Asia Pacific Region jointly organised a webinar to highlight some of the ways in which trade rules impact on government’s response to Covid, including by tightening intellectual property on medicines, promoting private provision of healthcare, curtailing industrial policy tools for the economic recovery, promoting volatile jobs in foreign owned businesses, and putting governments at risk to be sued when they intervene in the public interest.

The power point presentation can be found here. To watch the webinar recording, contact Susana Barria.


Yoke-ling Chee and Sanya Reid-Smith,
Third World Network
How does the trade regime erode the ability of governments to respond to the current crisis?

Trade Union representatives – Singapore, India, Malaysia, Philippines, and others
Key demands from trade unions and civil society organisation with regard to trade rules

Moderator: Susana Barria, Public Services International

See the links below for more background information.

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