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The Importance Of Collaboration, Open Trade, And Innovation In Tackling COVID-19

Summary:
Today, the Geneva Network is launching its declaration on the importance of open trade and innovation in tackling COVID-19, with the ASI as a signatory. The 31 signatories all recognise the importance of a global response to this global issue.Protectionism will prolong the crisis and lead to shortages of medical supplies. Abolishing tariffs on medical supplies and medicines will, on the other hand, allow countries to import them with ease and ensure the supply of goods to countries in need. Most states are not self reliant. Nor would we want them to be. Specialisation means we can focus on what we’re good at, and trade allows us to have access to all manner of goods. We’re all the richer for it. Individuals should not be victims of national pride — they should not prevent free trade and

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Today, the Geneva Network is launching its declaration on the importance of open trade and innovation in tackling COVID-19, with the ASI as a signatory. The 31 signatories all recognise the importance of a global response to this global issue.

Protectionism will prolong the crisis and lead to shortages of medical supplies. Abolishing tariffs on medical supplies and medicines will, on the other hand, allow countries to import them with ease and ensure the supply of goods to countries in need. 

Most states are not self reliant. Nor would we want them to be. Specialisation means we can focus on what we’re good at, and trade allows us to have access to all manner of goods. We’re all the richer for it. 

Individuals should not be victims of national pride — they should not prevent free trade and the efficient supply of necessities. Similarly, countries must reject export bans on medical supplies. 

Global markets for medical supplies are essential for a global pandemic. Our concerns do not stop at borders and nor should our supplies. We benefit from the ability to procure components from across the world to construct a final product. Put up in haste by populist politicians looking to be seen to do ‘something’, we must commit to remove export bans. In doing so, countries will be allowing their manufacturers to do their bit and contribute to medical equipment across the globe.  

The declaration calls for Governments to commit to permanent tariff reductions on medical supplies, devices, medicines and vaccines via legally binding WTO commitment: this would be a tool not only in dealing with the present situation but also in future crises too. We should never tax our citizens for the audacity of buying essential goods from abroad. 

In today’s world it is neither possible nor desirable for entire countries to isolate themselves from others. In Britain, entrepreneurial spirit has helped to combat shortages of hand sanitiser. Spirit producing companies, such as BrewDog, have been able to shift production to meet the sudden change in demand while Burberry has flipped production to ‘designer’ personal protective equipment. This entrepreneurial spirit should be rewarded and allowed to help areas where supply is not so responsive through free trade. Market solutions should be allowed to help fill global demand, not just domestic.

As the Geneva Network points out “five Latin American countries (Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina) have the highest tariffs on protective facemasks, ranging from 17% to 55%”. These tariffs will hurt these countries’ citizens in the name of local business. It is the free market that will mean these necessities are available to all. By removing these extortionately high tariffs, the governments would be introducing greater competition in the provision of medical supplies which in turn forces lower prices and ensures not only adequate supply but also affordability.

The Geneva Network’s declaration advocates the free flow of essential epidemiological and clinical data across borders, a process which will facilitate a solution to this crisis. Having access to international sets of information allows scientists to work together to provide a vaccine. Just as sharing knowledge is important so is maintaining transparency in collecting and sharing epidemiological data. Skewing data to be more flattering to a country does not benefit the scientific cause since the need to assess the data is critical. Accepting decisions made by major drug regulatory authorities such as the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency will facilitate this process further — what’s good and safe for humans in one developed country is the same in another, we can cut time on approvals and save lives. Drug manufacturers can produce a speedy treatment and even a vaccine to face this silent killer and future threats without having to compromise on safety.

Innovation has shown itself vital to solving this crisis and will continue to do so. A key factor in encouraging innovation is intellectual property rights. These rights incentivise the private sector and spur on competition. Scientists need the security that their rights will be protected and not done away with by any state. If this is achieved, it will produce the greatest degree of innovation, the greatest degree of productivity when medicines are developed and greatest efficiency in distributing medicine.  

Now more than ever is the time for all countries to be following Pakistan, Brazil, Colombia and Norway’s examples of exempting COVID-19 related medicines, vaccines and medical supplies from import duties and taxes. These countries recognise the role of free trade in truly protecting their people.

We’re proud to join the call. We hope governments around the world will listen. 

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