Short Supply Conditions and the Law of International Trade: Economic Lessons from the Pandemic
11 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2020 Last revised: 21 Aug 2020
Date Written: August 3, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by shortages and potential shortages of products critical to the public health response. Many nations have responded with export restrictions on these products, restrictions that are permitted under international trade law as a temporary response to short supply conditions generally and to public health emergencies in particular. This essay argues that such export restrictions are economically counterproductive from a global efficiency perspective, and that governments acting unilaterally will nevertheless employ them due to international externalities that propagate through the “terms of trade.” This observation raises a puzzle as to why international law should facilitate rather than curtail them. The most plausible answer is that legal authority for such measures is a politically necessary “escape clause” in trade agreements, akin to safeguard measures.
Keywords: WTO, international trade, escape clauses, COVID-19
JEL Classification: F13, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation