Open Doors, Not Build Walls

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

December 29, 2022

The world is at a crossroad today. Years of business-as-usual have been shaken up by the pandemic. Globally, nations are facing several crises that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

It’s been three years since the outbreak of COVID-. The virus has spread to every corner of the world, impacting businesses and human lives – even transforming the way we conduct our personal and professional lives. Nothing remains untouched by the pandemic in some way or the other.

Businesses that had just started operating were forced to shut shop with lockdowns world over. Businesses that did shift online found it very difficult to suddenly manage employees remotely.

The pandemic has completely rewritten the way we work, socialize and operate. Businesses are still reeling from its impacts. The pre-COVID era is now a distant memory. Many experts are advising businesses and governments to rethink their future strategy, keeping in mind lessons learnt from COVID-19.

Deep Crises

Even before the pandemic came knocking, there were other crises brewing around the world. Civil unrest, protests, fear of a Third World War, and climate change, were all crises that people had somehow started to learn to live with.

The one good thing the pandemic did was to bring the spotlight on climate change adaptation and mitigation. This is due to growing evidence of climate change being the primary reason for the increased spurt in zoonotic diseases globally. COVID-19 is also one form of zoonotic disease that has jumped from animals to humans. Although climate change has been acknowledged as the biggest crisis that the world faces in the 21st century, efforts to mitigate or control it have been poor.

Many believe the pandemic has inadvertently impacted climate financing and funding, as businesses and governments choose to attend to more immediate needs of the economy such as jobs, health and reviving the economy.

Trade and supply chains have also been impacted severely. Amid border closures and reduction in demand, businesses were impacted the most, particularly those that depended heavily on several countries to source their raw materials.

The resurgence of the Omicron variant is unleashing havoc on daily lives, businesses and governance of people in China. Experts believe that China could be looking at losing up to one million lives to COVID-19 in 2023. And it is plausible that parts of China will see lockdowns when cases increase substantially. The impact of this will also be felt on global supply chains, greatly influencing global inflation and the availability of products.

The rhetoric around reshoring grew louder amid supply chain disruptions as many believed it made sense to localize and reshore production of various goods to lower dependency on foreign suppliers. But this also gives rise to questions around quality, price and availability of needed raw materials closer to where businesses operate.

The USP of the global value chain was its competitive pricing, in-time availability and quality assurance. Prior to the pandemic, it worked like clockwork. To develop such a matrix that appeals to every business will be a difficult task and is yet to be seen, but there is no reason to believe that it will not bounce back and that globalization will be back.

Divisions around free and open trade grew wider amid the pandemic, as leaders chose to look inwards. More and more countries are choosing to focus their efforts to respond to crises domestically, rather than work together in addressing global crises.

“Global growth is forecast to slow from 6% in 2021 to 3.2% in 2022 and 2.7% in 2023. Global inflation is forecast to rise from 4.7% in 2021 to 8.8% in 2022 but to decline to 6.5% in 2023 and to 4.1% by 2024,” stated the IMF, in its economic outlook of October, 2022. In reality, the numbers could be worse, depending on how China copes with the surge in COVID-19 cases, and what direction the war in Ukraine takes.

In light of this, it is hard to imagine how countries choosing to shun international trade, cooperation and collaboration will help address the issue of weak economic growth (among the many other challenges).

Working Together

Addressing the impacts of the pandemic, climate change or any other crises occurring domestically or internationally cannot happen in silos. Singular efforts will likely prove futile in handling problems of such magnitude.

History shows us that cooperation and collaboration brought the world together following WWII. And since 1990, when more of the world warmed to the idea of globalization and free markets, the world has enjoyed strong economic growth and a rise in incomes. While this period has not been without its challenges—such as rising inequality, for instance—it is still a template of sorts for future growth.

Now is the time we require the same enthusiasm and a global order that opens doors, and doesn’t build walls. The only way to respond to the multiple crises at hand is collectively.

Photo Caption: The resurgence of the Omicron variant is unleashing havoc on daily lives. Photo by Masao Mask on Unsplash.