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July 2020

By Brendan Vickers, Salamat Ali, Collin Zhuawu and Tim Balin

Covid-19 related medical imports for Least Developed Countries in the Commonwealth

In 2017-18, the value of total imports for all Least Development Countries (LDCs) was approximately US$ 258 billion, less than two percent of which comprised of medical supplies. Commonwealth LDCs followed a similar pattern, importing less than US$ 2 billion in COVID-related products, which is equivalent to two per cent of their total imports. Overall, intra-Commonwealth trade is important for Commonwealth LDCs. Almost 50 per cent (or US$1.1 billion) of their health related imports originated from other Commonwealth countries.

Intra-Commonwealth medical supplies trade crucial for LDCs

The global medical supplies market is dominated by the European Union and the United States. Commonwealth LDCs, the reliance on these big suppliers is less obvious as they mostly import from other countries such as Australia, China, India, and in the case of African LDCs, from South Africa.  On average, LDCs source around 10–25 per cent of their supplies from a single country. Intra-Commonwealth regional trade is highly significant for countries such as Lesotho and Vanuatu, which depend largely on South Africa (65 per cent) and Australia (47 per cent), respectively, for their medical supplies.

Covid-19 related medical imports basket of Commonwealth LDCs

In 2017-18, medical imports for Commonwealth LDCs consisted mostly of disinfectants, soaps, and oxygen therapy equipment.

For the African LDCs, disinfectants made up almost half of their Covid-related imports in this period. However, the import of oxygen therapy equipment (4.5 per cent), PPE (10 per cent) or test kits (12 per cent) was minimal – which indicates the scale of the challenge they face in tackling the pandemic.

Bangladesh’s medical imports in the same period was dominated by oxygen therapy equipment (25 per cent) and PPE (24 per cent), despite having more capacity to manufacture PPEs than other LDCs.

For the Pacific LDCs, two-thirds of imports were in three categories: disinfectants (23 per cent), soaps and consumables (22 per cent) and oxygen therapy equipment (21 per cent).

Covid-19 related medical supplies as a share of total trade in Commonwealth LDCs