Preparing for a post-pandemic world

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - November 1, 2020 - 12:00am

As the world continues to grapple with the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are clear indications that the situation will be much better controlled as soon as the vaccines are out. Here in the US, “Operation Warp Speed” is proving to be successful as pharmaceutical companies start ramping up their production of a safe vaccine for the world.

One of them is Pfizer that is looking to provide an initial 40 million doses by year-end for 20 million Americans with its application for emergency use authorization poised to be approved, and another 100 million doses by March 2021. Moderna is also expecting to deliver 20 million doses for the US by the end of this year and is targeting to deliver 500 million doses every year starting in 2021. AstraZeneca is now back on track with plans to supply up to 400 million doses worldwide by early next year.

Many countries are already planning ahead to ensure that they can get supplies of the vaccines as soon as these become available because – as many economists and health experts have pointed out – a safe COVID-19 vaccine is the only way out of this crisis and restart the economy. The current situation has clearly shown us that we need to prepare for a major health crisis which could happen again even sooner than a hundred years, as seen with the 1918 flu pandemic. Being the two biggest economies in the world, the United States and China will have to face up to the stark reality that they have to find ways to work together and cooperate in keeping the world safe.

The other day I and a select group of ambassadors were invited to the Blair presidential guest house to meet with Larry Kudlow, the economic adviser of President Trump. Larry Kudlow is confident the US will bounce back by the first quarter of next year, which may sound like a very optimistic view, but there are recent developments that show encouraging signs. One of them is the turnaround in the US economy as seen in the record 7.4 percent GDP growth for the third quarter, which basically recovered two thirds of the lost ground during the first half of 2020. As Mr. Kudlow said, it was a new record that beat all expectations.

In the Philippines, there are also several positive indications, among them the recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Investment Trends Monitor that showed the Philippines as one of the two countries in Southeast Asia (the other one being Thailand) that managed to increase their foreign direct investment (FDI) for the first half of 2020. According to UNCTAD, FDIs contracted by 20 percent in the whole of Southeast Asia but the Philippines saw its FDI inflows rising by 20 percent, citing “mergers and acquisition deals in agriculture and energy” that played a role in sustaining the inflows.

A new book titled “Green Finance Strategies for Post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery in Southeast Asia: Greening Recoveries for Planet and People” recently published by the Asian Development Bank also cited several programs of the Philippine government, among them “Build, Build, Build” as having the potential to create investment opportunities and generate green jobs that can contribute to recovery post-pandemic.

A recent report released by the World Bank and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) says that “rapid adoption of digital technologies can help the Philippines overcome the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, recover from the crisis and achieve its vision of becoming a middle-class society free of poverty.” The report noted that the growing use of digital payments, e-commerce, telemedicine and online education have been instrumental in the implementation of social distancing measures that have helped ensure business continuity as well as the delivery of services amid the pandemic.

According to the iPrice Group’s Map of E-Commerce report, the pandemic has inevitably driven the Philippines’ online economy to catch up with its ASEAN neighbors (https://iprice.ph/insights/mapofecommerce/en/), registering the highest increase in the usage of shopping apps at 53 percent in Southeast Asia. The report also cited data from Statista revealing that 44 percent of Filipinos aged 35-44 purchased more online during COVID-19. And while many Filipinos are not yet as e-commerce savvy as their neighbors in the region, these data show that they are gradually adapting.

There is no doubt that many investors see the Philippines as a viable investment destination, among them the Australia-based TMA Group that recently increased its investment to P4.4 billion. “The Philippines is a long well-kept secret and it’s time to tell people about it,” said its executive chairman Anthony Karam, adding that he highly recommends that investors locate in the country, pointing to the highly-educated work force as well as the low cost of operations as additional plus factors.

We at the Philippine embassy in Washington, DC continue our work to elevate the profile of the country as an ideal place for investments. We are organizing a webinar forum scheduled for Nov. 13 (Philippine time) with Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez and Bases Conversion and Development Authority CEO Vince Dizon. We invited almost all the top 100 corporations from all over the United States for the event with selected guests. Other Filipino company heads have also been invited, as well as the US American Chamber of Commerce headed by our friend, Charles Freeman, the senior vice president for Asia. We expect a large attendance.

As McKinsey Global Institute chairman James Manyika put it, “the world after COVID-19 is unlikely to return to the world that was” – and the Philippines has to be economically ready for this new world when this pandemic is over.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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