Rules-based trade is under attack, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is at risk of marginalisation. The COVID-19 pandemic and its detrimental effects on public health, value chains, and industrial production have brought back national export restrictions and stopped the free flow of goods and people. Buzz words such as ‘decoupling’, ‘sovereignty’ and ‘autarky’ have quickly returned to the global stage. However, COVID-19 is not the first shock to global trade. The WTO is already facing an existential crisis due to a deadlock in negotiations, blockage of institutional reforms, and paralysis of the dispute settlement mechanism (DSM). Nevertheless, there is hope that countries experiencing the effects of disrupted trade means the EU can take the lead in global reform efforts.