“The COVID-19 pandemic is above all a public health crisis, and preventing further suffering is the WTO’s overriding concern,” Yi said. “However, the outbreak has also disrupted the global economy in unprecedented ways.”
Health measures initiated to battle the pandemic have hit many service sectors that require “in-person interactions,” but such measures “saved many lives” despite the economic costs, he added. Yi specializes in economic research and statistics at WTO.
“Relatively fast action in many countries to provide fiscal and monetary support has helped mitigate some of the negative economic effects,” Yi said. “The net result has been a deeper but less prolonged decline in trade, although considerable uncertainty remains about the strength of any recovery going forward.”
He said this year’s trade slump would accompany a drop in GDP of 4.8%, followed by a 4.9% jump next year.
“A resurgence of COVID-19 requiring new lockdowns could reduce global GDP growth by two to three percentage points, and shave up to four percentage points off of merchandise trade growth in 2021,” he said.
Yi pointed to “some limited upside potential” if effective vaccines or other medical treatments can be made available quickly.
Yi is one of four WTO deputy directors-general along with others from Germany, Nigeria and the United States. Former WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo left the job in August, nearly a year ahead of schedule, and five remaining candidates are vying to succeed him in a process likely to be completed in coming weeks.
Yi has spoken publicly in his role, but had never previously led a WTO news conference, according to the trade body’s press office.