Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on trade and development: transitioning to a new normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has gravely wounded the world economy with serious consequences impacting all communities and individuals. Moving rapidly across borders, along the principal arteries of the global economy, the spread of the virus has benefited from the underlying interconnectedness – and frailties – of globalization, catapulting a global health crisis into a global economic shock that has hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

Emerging from the natural environment and paralyzing our societies and our economies, the coronavirus disease demonstrates the interdependence implicit in the Sustainable Development Goals, but it is derailing global efforts to achieve them.

Since the virus first began to spread and the potential repercussions for development became apparent, we at the UNCTAD secretariat have been closely monitoring the effects of the global pandemic on trade and development.

Data protal

This report is a product of this engagement. It synthesizes the substantive analysis and dialogue that UNCTAD has undertaken around these issues across our divisions and competencies. It seeks to discern how COVID-19 is spurring on a number of trends already visible prior to the pandemic, magnifying some obstacles, but also opening up new opportunities for trade and development.

While the pandemic may be far from over, it has become clear that transforming global approaches to trade and development cannot be avoided when charting a sustainable course to recovery from the pandemic. This report benchmarks the expectations of UNCTAD for what a “better recovery” must constitute. It identifies several areas where the pandemic is accelerating trends already building up since the global financial crisis in trade, investment and technological change. It is our belief that recovery from the pandemic can help reshape global production networks and reset multilateral cooperation for the better, accelerating achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. That – in a nutshell— is the UNCTAD definition of the “better recovery” from the pandemic called for by the United Nations as a whole.

It is our hope that this “better recovery” can sow the seeds of a healthier, fairer and greener globalization that can be nourished by a more resilient approach to multilateralism. As this report goes to press, there are growing hopes that an effective vaccine will soon be available.

This is extremely welcome news. Still, if any precautions can be drawn from UNCTAD analysis of the uneven and asymmetric impacts of the pandemic so far, the affordability of any vaccine for all of humanity should be of paramount importance. Addressing trends that were already weakening our journey towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should not be lost to the community of nations.

Mukhisa Kituyi
Secretary-General of UNCTAD