Skip to main content
News article23 November 2020Directorate-General for Trade2 min read

Ottawa Group proposes a global Trade and Health Initiative

The Ottawa Group, a group of 13 like-minded WTO partners including the EU, agreed today on an initiative, calling on the WTO members to increase their cooperation and work toward enhanced global rules to facilitate trade in essential medical goods.

The agreement took place as an outcome of the Ottawa Group Ministerial meeting, hosted virtually by Minister Mary Ng of Canada.

The Ottawa Group members called for immediate actions in response to the coronavirus crisis such as exercising a restraint in using any export restrictions, implementing trade-facilitating measures in the area of customs and services, as well as improving transparency.

They also called for further cooperation amongst members, and between the WTO and other international organisations.

The group also encourages WTO members to refrain from imposing tariffs on essential medical goods during the crisis. Such actions are intended to strengthen the resilience of supply chains and contribute to an effective response to a public health emergency. They can serve as a basis for future permanent commitments on trade in essential medical goods.

Commission Executive Vice President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “We are proud to promote this trade and health initiative. It aims to encourage stronger global cooperation at WTO level, by facilitating trade in healthcare products. This is critical in the current global health crisis and will also help us in future. But the Ottawa Group trade and health initiative is just the first step. Going forward, the EU will work to promote resilient global healthcare systems, as well as accessible and affordable healthcare products universally.”

The communication will now be submitted later this week to the WTO secretariat, before being presented to the WTO General Council for discussion. It will be used to prepare the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO, due to be held in 2021.


At the outset of the crisis, due to the explosion of demand, the world faced shortages in essential goods necessary to address the health emergency. In response, the EU has worked with its like-minded partners within the Ottawa Group (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, European Union, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland) to put forward a proposal on a “trade and health” initiative for temporary and permanent actions of WTO Members.

On 15th June, the Commission published a concept paper, outlining potential elements of an international agreement in this regard which was discussed in the Ottawa Group. As a first step, the Ottawa Group agreed to submit to a proposal to the WTO members with a list of actions that WTO members could take in the short-term, while working further on potential new WTO commitments.

More information

More on WTO


Publication date
23 November 2020
Directorate-General for Trade
Trade topics
  • Trade policy