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UH Law Center’s Initiative on Global Law and Policy discussion analyzes pandemic’s impact on global commerce

April 9, 2021 - International law scholars discussed how the COVID-19 crisis led to a decline in trade across the world and has emphasized the need for greater collaboration amongst regions and nations in future emergencies during a virtual presentation hosted by the University of Houston Law Center’s Initiative on Global Law and Policy University of Bologna Center for Latin American Studies.

"International Trade in the Time of COVID-19," was the fourth event in a six-part series, co-sponsored by the American Society of International Law-Latin America Interest Group.

The webinar series is being co-organized by GLPA founding director Elizabeth Trujillo, the Law Center's Mary Ann & Lawrence E. Faust Professor of Law, and Sabrina Ragone, a Professor of Comparative Law at the University of Bologna.

The webinar’s keynote speaker was Gabrielle Marceau, senior counsellor in the Research Division of the World Trade Organization, and a professor at the University of Geneva. Boston College of Law Professor Frank García served as the moderator and as a discussant with Trujillo.

In Marceau’s wide-ranging remarks, she touched on how the WTO has responded to the pandemic and its role as a “transparency hub,” the need for cooperation amongst nations and for public private partnerships for the production and distribution of medical goods and vaccines.  She also discussed multiple international proposals that gather different actors, placing an emphasis on sustainability. 

"We cannot aside the simple point that this pandemic was caused by the way we live," Marceau said.  "We need to deal differently with nature and the environment. The crisis seems to have shaken up governments so that they realize that we need to take action, because this is really a global problem that shows that all humans are equal.” She added that

“Until the last African or the last Asian is protected, vaccinated or immune, citizens of every single country are under threat. The pandemic is bringing us back to our deep nature."

García lauded the work Marceau and others at WTO have been involved in, and also pressed for the need to go farther, discussing how a temporary Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver by the WTO, could lead to more equity in vaccine equity issues, and to a regained trust of global institutions.

"It's easy to forget right now the context of the pandemic, that we were in a crisis before this one," García said. "It was a crisis of globalization, a crisis of nationalism, a crisis of loss of faith in multilateralism. All of that has affected how countries are responding to the pandemic.”

"In order to facilitate rapid, across the board mobilization of investment capital, technology and know-how, you need a structural response to a structural challenge. In that sense it's really important we use this opportunity not just to restore the status quo, but to rebuild a larger faith in globalization itself."

In Trujillo's remarks she said many current challenges were in existence before the pandemic, such as the rise of increased protectionism, and the need to recalibrate our relationship with international trade on areas such as sustainability, energy, the digital economy, intellectual property protections and regulation.

"In the last four years, an 'America-first' policy, made America withdraw from some of these agreements and globalization in general," Trujillo said. "But it's not just the United States - many countries have followed suit. Particularly with the rise of a pandemic in which the focus has been national concerns. With the onslaught of this pandemic, trade decreased around the world at about 20 percent in 2020."

Trujillo discussed specific trade issues that need updating to better address future global emergencies, especially around subsidies and the national security defense in trade.  “We also need to change the narrative around trade.  We need to make it more palatable to citizens so they understand that trade is a tool to help people improve their lives, to create access to vaccines for example--that trade is be part of the solution and part of their daily lives.”

Click here to watch “International Trade in the Time of COVID-19.”

The remaining schedule for the speaker series, "Constitutionalism, Trade, Social Justice, and Sustainability in the Americas: Lessons from the 2020 Global Pandemic," and registration information can be found below:

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