The COVID-19 pandemic has led many to predict the end of globalisation. Confronted with unprecedented social and economic challenges, countries are prioritising their own citizens and aiming for varying degrees of self-sufficiency and independence. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the global trading system. History tells us that a search for self-sufficiency driven by economic nationalism is coupled with rampant protectionism: subsidies, increased border protection, export controls along with a plethora of other clandestine trade distorting measures, all of which fall outside the discipline of internationally agreed norms.
The pandemic has created unprecedented worldwide demand for medical products. No country is entirely self-sufficient in the products and equipment needed for its public health systems – most rely heavily on imports and have adopted a vast array of trade and production measures to ensure the supply for their citizens. Correspondingly, since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a haphazard proliferation of measures designed to protect national interests with deleterious consequences for the international trading system as a whole.
The paper concludes with the idea that the world economy will require more, not less, global trade cooperation after COVID-19. Reforming the WTO has become more pressing than ever to help update rules in line with the dramatic changes brought about by the pandemic.