New York

24 March 2020

Note to Correspondents: Letter from the Secretary-General to G-20 Members

23 March 2020
I welcome the decision by the leaders of the Group of Twenty (G-20) to
convene an emergency virtual summit to respond to the catastrophic challenges
posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the global health crisis spreads human
suffering and upends the global economy, the world looks forward to concerted
and decisive action by world leaders.
This is above all a human crisis, with multifaceted threats. Even in the
wealthiest countries, we see health systems buckling under pressure. Around the
world, the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic are already tangible — schools
are closing, already pervasive inequalities are deepening, many countries are
unable to respond to the enormous needs of the elderly; and women, who
represent 70 per cent of health-care workers, are disproportionately affected.
A recession is in prospect. The question is: how long it will last and how much
Damage will it do to the productive capacities of our economies and the
livelihoods of our citizens.
COVID-19 will require a response like none before — a “war-time” plan
in times of human crisis. The G-20 leadership has an extraordinary opportunity
to step forward with a strong response package to address the various threats of
COVID-19. This would demonstrate solidarity with the world’s people,
especially the most vulnerable.
Allow me to share with you 3 critical areas for discussion and
decision-making at the upcoming G-20 meeting:
First - coordination and cooperation to suppress the virus
Our first priority is to tackle the pandemic everywhere, to be safe
anywhere. It must be clear, that our strategy is a coordinated suppression of the
I call on G-20 leaders to establish an articulated response mechanism
guided by the World Health Organization, to achieve suppression together.
Such a mechanism would strengthen the global response and provide countries
with stronger capabilities to stop transmission: test, trace, quarantine, treat the sick
and coordinate measures to restrict movement and contact. It would also
help enhance scientific collaboration in the search for a vaccine and therapeutic
We also see the need for a continued global effort to better determine
the emerging needs for medical and protective equipment, increase and help
procure critical supplies, and establish additional transportation and supply
chains to fight the virus across all borders. The United Nations stands ready
to support facilitating such effort, building on the experience to combat Ebola.
Our global supply network is fully at your disposal.
Let us remember that we are only as strong as the weakest health system
in our interconnected world.
To this end we must create the conditions and mobilize the resources
necessary to ensure that developing countries have equal opportunities to
respond to this crisis in their communities and economies. Anything short of this
commitment would lead to a pandemic of apocalyptic proportions affecting us all.
I urge G-20 leaders to commit to ban tariffs, quotas or non-tariff measures,
and remove restrictions on cross border trade that affect the deployment of
medical equipment, medicines and other essential goods to fight the epidemic.
And I am encouraging the waiving of sanctions imposed on countries to
ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support.
This is the time for solidarity not exclusion.
Second - we must minimize the social and economic impact of
COVID-19 for everyone and stimulate a faster recovery everywhere
By the end of this year, the cost of this pandemic is likely to be measured
in the trillions of dollars. The response of G-20 leaders must be decisive and
commensurate. It must inject massive resources into economies, reaching double-digit
percentage points in the world’s gross domestic product.
We mustall acknowledge that ““business-as-usual” economic rules and
policy tools no longer apply. These are unprecedented times.
Unlike 2008, this is not a banking crisis. While the liquidity of the
financial system must be guaranteed, we need to focus on people — families,
low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises and the informal sector.
Important steps have already been taken by developed countries in this direction.
This must be scaled up.
But this is not enough. I urge G-20 leaders to consider the urgent launch
of a large-scale, coordinated stimulus package in the trillions of dollars to target
the direct provision of resources to businesses, workers and households in those
countries unable to do so alone. This would include scaling up cash transfer
measures, social protection, tax abatement, fiscal stimulus, low interest rates,
access to credit, insurance and wage support schemes.
And these expansionary policies must be accompanied by a clear
repudiation of protectionism. It is possible with your collective commitment
and action.
Let us be reminded that the G-20, accounting for 85 per cent of the
world’s gross domestic product, has a direct interest and critical role to play
in helping developing countries cope with the crisis. If we allow the virus to
spread like wildfire across the globe, its eradication will remain elusive.
So, the second support package we need is one of support to developing
The G-20 can help provide immediate liquidity relief to the private and
financial sector in the developing world in the form of trade credits, liquidity
lines and guarantee schemes.
Working with international financial institutions, the G-20 can help
significantly increase access by developing countries to concessional financing.
Today, the resources available to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
are insufficient to address this crisis of unprecedented proportion. We must
steadily increase them, namely by leveraging Special Drawing Rights to rapidly
inject resources into countries. Debt restructuring must also become a priority —
including immediate waivers on interest payments for 2020. Financial support
to the IMF Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust is another critical venue
to help the poorest countries with immediate debt relief.
Further coordination among major central banks could help ease swap
lines and provide liquidity in the financial system, especially in emerging
economies and developing countries. The cost of remittances — a lifeline in
the developing world — should be brought as close to zero as possible.
On Wednesday, 25 March 2020, I will be launching a humanitarian appeal
focused primarily on forty of the most vulnerable countries, where the impact of
COVID-19 on people will be particularly severe. Without this critical support to
countries where health systems are most unable to cope, I fear that the virus may
take a deep foothold.
I urge G-20 leaders to contribute generously to this appeal.
Third - we must reaffirm our common responsibility to “recover
better”, with more inclusive and sustainable models of development
The current crisis is a stark reminder of humanity’s common fate and
of the need for upfront investments to reduce the catastrophic downstream risks
of the pandemic. It also provides a watershed moment for investment in critical
public services and global public goods. The 2008 financial crisis demonstrated
that countries with robust social protection systems suffered the least and
recovered most quickly from its impact.
The world has agreed on a framework for action — the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change — and they
continue to offer a guiding light for people and planet. We must ensure that the
recovery strategy out of this crisis keeps us on track towards these longer-term
objectives, building a sustainable and inclusive economy.
The upcoming extraordinary meeting allows G-20 leaders to make
a decisive step forward in our battle against COVID-19 and re-establish trust in
public institutions and the hope for a better future in solidarity.
I am convinced that only international coordination can avoid a worst-case
scenario. A unified message of concerted action from G-20 leaders is needed now
more than ever.
The United Nations — with its global network of country offices and
partners — stands ready to work with the G-20 in support of all countries.
Together, we can ensure that the global economy and the people we serve
emerge stronger from this crisis.
I look forward to an ambitious set of concrete commitments at the
upcoming G-20 virtual meeting.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.