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New Zealand; Singapore: New Declaration on Trade in Essential Goods for Combating the COVID-19 Pandemic

(Apr. 17, 2020) On April 15, 2020, the governments of New Zealand and Singapore “launched a new trade initiative to ensure supply chain connectivity and the removal of blockages to trade in a list of essential products that includes medicines, medical and surgical equipment.” The initiative builds on a joint statement by the two countries in March, which was subsequently joined by Canada, Australia, Chile, Brunei, and Myanmar, “committing to keep supply chains open and remove any existing trade restrictive measures on essential goods, especially medical supplies, in the face of the Covid-19 crisis.”

The April 15 “Declaration on Trade in Essential Goods for Combating the Covid-19 Pandemic” is an “open plurilateral” initiative, with other countries able to join at any point. It provides that participants will, for example,

  • “eliminate all customs duties and all other duties and charges of any kind . . . with respect to all products listed in Annex I”;
  • “not apply export prohibitions or restrictions . . . with respect to all products listed in Annex I”;
  • “intensify consultations with a view to removing non-tariff barriers on all products listed in Annex I and Annex II”;
  • “expedite and facilitate the flow and transit of all products listed in Annex I and Annex II through their respective sea and air ports”;
  • “endeavour to expedite the release of such products upon arrival[,] including adopting or maintaining procedures allowing for submission of import documentation and other required information, including manifests, in order to begin processing prior to the arrival of products”;
  • “uphold [the] ICAO Covid-19 Declaration, adopted by the ICAO Council on 9 March 2020, and … endeavour to facilitate, entry, transit and departure of air cargo containing essential medical supplies” (link added); and
  • “endeavor to not apply export prohibitions or restrictions with respect to the products listed in Annex II, unless they fall within exceptions set out in GATT 1994.”

Annex I lists various items, including vitamins, antibiotics, medicines, vaccines, dressings, pharmaceutical goods, soap, washing and cleaning preparations, disinfectants, prepared culture media, surgical gloves, textiles, laboratory glassware, sterilizers, medical instruments and appliances, therapeutic respiration apparatus, equipment related to x-rays, and thermometers.

Annex II includes, for example, live animals, meat, fish, milk and dairy products, plants, fresh and dried fruits and vegetables, coffee and tea, spices, wheat and flour, edible oils, pasta, jams, yeast, condiments, beer and wine, etc.

The New Zealand and Singapore trade ministers stated that the two countries “consider it crucial that during this pandemic, trade in vital goods such as medical supplies and food continues to flow freely. We believe that global cooperation on trade can assist in dealing with this worldwide health crisis.”

A news article published on April 15 reported that the Singapore minister had said that “[f]ood and other essential items will be landing in Singapore from New Zealand next week” under the new declaration.