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The lack of protective gear including masks and gloves is putting the lives of patients and healthcare workers at peril in many countries. This has prompted governments to restrict exports of medical supplies, a new VoxEU article authored by Simon Evenett shows.

Using information from press reports and Global Trade Alert, Evenett finds that at least 24 nations have imposed fresh export bans or limits on coronavirus-related medical supply. This includes protective medical equipment such as masks as well as medicines and their ingredients. Evenett notes that in early March, German authorities stopped delivery of 240,000 masks to a Swiss buyer. France prevented mask company Valmy SAS from fulfilling a contract with the British National Health Service to supply masks. Similarly, China stopped medical supply to North American buyers.

He highlights that the pace at which governments are imposing export restrictions is accelerating: of the 27 export restrictions imposed by these 24 nations since the beginning of the year, 16 were implemented in the first 10 days of March 2020.

It is worth noting that although India also imposed export bans on medical supplies earlier this year, it reversed some of its export restrictions on masks in early February, allowing some to be exported to China. More recently, Taiwan also temporarily lifted an export ban on facial masks. Still, overall export policy has become more restrictive, the authors write.

Evenett warns that denying medical supply to foreign buyers could be costly to countries imposing them as well. For instance, expectation of lower export sales will discourage local firms from boosting production and investing in new capacity. It will also hurt cooperation with other governments, and may stoke retaliation from trading partners.

Also read: Sickening thy neighbour: Export restraints on medical supplies during a pandemic

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