A better world post COVID-19
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - May 24, 2020 - 12:00am

As we continue to confront the daily grim reality of the COVID-19 crisis, a collection of essays by the Global Risks Advisory Board of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Initiative was brought to my attention. These essays look beyond the current crisis and discuss the potential challenges and opportunities in the post-COVID-19 world. This is not something I would usually read except that my son Eduardo, who is Secretary General of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council  along with being a member of the Advisory Board is also a contributor to the collection of essays.

Some of the members include Al Gore, former Vice President, USA; Julie Bishop former Foreign Minister of Australia; Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation; Ngaire Woods, dean of the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford; and Winnie Byanyima, executive director, UNAIDS. There are other representatives from business, civil society and academic institutions around the world.

My daughter Veronica entitled a column “Our World War.” In times of war we are not only forced to suspend our usual ways and norms of doing things but, if we are to beat our common enemy that is COVID-19, we must come together, not only within our own barangays, cities and countries but as a world. This is possible in spite of the frayed geopolitics because, more than any experience since World War 2, this is a shared experience.

This message also came through loud and clear in my son’s article that was co-authored with Pascal Lamy, former director general of the World Trade Organization and now president of the Paris Peace Forum. In their article they argue that “The enemy is a virus that can only be defeated by concerted multilateral action. No matter how successful one country is at “flattening the curve,” unless we flatten the curve globally, there is always the risk the virus will reinfect our
populations. This is the absolute and clearest argument in favor of multilateral cooperation.” Even if we are successful in reducing the infection rate in Metro Manila, it does us little good if the rest of our country is suffering. Then we must look beyond our own borders. Over 10 million Filipinos are living and working overseas. Eventually they will want to come home and see their relatives. Not to mention of course the thousands and thousands of Filipino seafarers still supporting their families here. Some countries are beginning to talk about “travel bubbles,” my son’s article suggests that “international travel must restart. This is an issue the international community should begin to address.” As our country is so connected internationally this is an issue we must follow and pursue our interests.

One angle in the article I wanted to share with readers that I think important for our domestic debates is one use of export restrictions. According to the article “as of 27 March, 60 governments had placed some form of export curb on medical supplies, with accusations that some of these actions are tantamount to piracy and hijacking. There
are risks that more countries adopt this approach, not only to medical supplies but also food.” Personally I find this very worrying, especially for a developing country, should our trade partners restrict their trade with us it would seriously impair our ability to effectively respond to this crisis. We should therefore support
efforts that keep trade and supply open.

Another interesting angle in this article is the point that “national security should not be equated with self-sufficiency ­ they are far from the same thing.” For a long part of our history we had indeed
done that to the detriment of our economy. In the pursuit of self-sufficiency we had  encumbered our agriculture sector with policies that left it with among the lowest productivity growth in ASEAN. I was gratified by Secretary Dominguez setting the record straight on the Masagana-99 program. It is very hard to get facts nowadays.  There is a deluge of information and misinformation. ­His first-hand experience in clearing up the mess was very useful. I’d like to see the same kind of information on other programs ­ not because I am for this person or against this person but because we
need a genuine policy debate. Were these policies good or bad for our people?

One additional point I wanted to underscore was the title of the article “Trade and Connectivity.” While emphasizing the need to avoid a return to the 1930s style tit-for-tat trade wars that led to the Second World War, the thought was it is not enough today to have open policies. ­You need to have the infrastructure to let things flow. To get critical medical and food supplies, the plane, trains and ultimately the supply chains have to work. They suggest that more countries join up to the “Joint Ministerial Statement on Supply Chain Connectivity.” This would be one way for smaller countries like ours to magnify our voices by joining in coalition with others with shared interests. This point about connecting trade and transport is not just an international issue, it is true domestically too. As we lift the ECQ, we need to get public transport working, it is simply not fair to ask people to walk miles to work if buses and trains are not working.

Another point I wanted to quote from the article “Out of every major crisis, new institutions have been born. The League of Nations came out of the destruction of the First World War; out of the Second World War the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions; There are clearly gaps in the international institutional architecture for dealing with emerging risks.” Such an organization would be of huge importance for our disaster-prone country. I hope that we can get behind this idea. But I shared this thought not in and off itself but to trigger thinking of what this crisis should mean for our own country and our social contract. We just passed the universal healthcare act. PhilHealth had a poorly thought out attempt to ask overseas Filipinos
to contribute. We need a fully informed policy discussion on the issues that matter to us, maybe this COVID-19 crisis should be the trigger.

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