United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC):

Restrictions on the export of medical products hamper efforts to contain coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America and the Caribbean is highly dependent on imports of medical products, as less than 4% of these are sourced within the region itself. To date, more than 70 countries —including four of the region’s top five suppliers, of which the first is the United States— have restricted their medical exports in response to COVID-19. Export restrictions are hampering the supply of products essential for fighting the pandemic in the region.

Latin America and the Caribbean should make it a strategic objective to strengthen its productive capabilities in the pharmaceutical and medical supplies and equipment industries, in order to gain a less vulnerable footing to face health crises in the future. This will require the combined efforts of the public sector, business and academia in a mission-oriented industrial policy framework. Several of the region’s countries have made worthwhile efforts in that direction, which must be sustained beyond the current pandemic.

In less than four months, COVID-19 has spread virtually across the globe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of 4 May 2020, the number of confirmed cases exceeded 3.4 million, across 215 countries, regions and territories. These include the 33 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, where 248,672 confirmed cases were reported at that time. A prerequisite for adequately addressing this pandemic is to ensure that sufficient medical and health products are available when needed in all affected countries. This category includes medicines, medical supplies, test kits, mechanical ventilators, masks and other personal protective equipment for the general population and especially for the health professionals most exposed to the virus. The production of medicines and other medical and health supplies is highly concentrated in industrialized countries and a small number of developing countries, mainly in Asia. International trade thus plays a crucial role in ensuring their availability across regions and countries, especially developing ones, which today urgently need them but lack sufficient productive capabilities of their own, at least in the short term. Since March, however, export restrictions on medical and health products have proliferated, including by some of the world’s leading suppliers. This note offers some elements to gauge the likely impact of these measures on the capacity of countries in the region to respond adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the full publication go to the link: https://www.cepal.org/en/publications/45511-restrictions-export-medical-products-hamper-efforts-contain-coronavirus-disease.

ECLAC, which is headquartered in Santiago, Chile, is one of the five regional commissions of the United Nations. It was founded with the purpose of contributing to the economic development of Latin America and the Caribbean, coordinating actions directed towards this end, and reinforcing economic ties among countries and with other nations of the world. The promotion of the region’s social development was later included among its primary objectives.