Covid-19 - What impact on globalization?

PHOTO CREDIT: chuttersnap (Unsplash)

Canada is a small country with a lot of trade. It is very close to the United States and, over the years, has also developed a relationship with Asia and Europe. In so doing, it has drawn closer to certain suppliers. However, in times of pandemic, supply chains can break down - as we've seen with drugs and medical equipment. In the current context, when this happens, it's difficult to act.

It's not just goods that are subject to international circulation, as there are also people who come to work in agriculture, for example, and those who sometimes arrive without papers and provide support in CHSLDs, for example. We need these people on our farms and to provide certain essential services.

The pandemic has made Canada aware of the vulnerability caused by its trade dependence, and of the need to find solutions. It has made us realize that, even if we can have a certain degree of international interdependence, we must not be totally dependent on foreign countries. We need to ensure a certain production capacity, especially for essential goods and services to guarantee the country's health security.

Opportunism and collaboration

Since the start of the pandemic, some have been opportunistic. Such situations are linked to problems of governance. In all global supply chains, there are large multinationals as well as subcontractors. Sometimes it's not clear who's calling the shots. In a crisis situation, this leads to coordination difficulties which can have very real and serious consequences, as we have seen in recent months.
There has been some opportunism, but there have also been some very fine collaborations. I was surprised! I hope that the pandemic will enable us to discover not only how to protect ourselves in times of crisis, but also how to cooperate better on an international level.

The big digital companies have done very well to come out on top. They will emerge from the pandemic as winners. Now they have to give back to the economy. Some have understood this, Netflix, for example. Local artists and cultural activities have benefited from its contribution. But we mustn't forget that Netflix's mode of operation poses a problem... We need to rethink the interaction of large digital companies that know everything about us. Conversely, we know very little about their operations and their economic and political power.

Globalization or cooperation?

Some people believe that we are in a spiral of deglobalization. I don't think so. I believe in solidarity and international economic cooperation. I believe that the international community is capable of meeting today's challenges; it has proved that it can do so. Just look at the history of the 20th century, when humanity emerged from a great world war and Europe was rebuilt economically and politically. I believe we can emerge from the Covid and rebuild the world in a spirit of cooperation and solidarity.

As after any crisis, there will be many changes and transformations, and these will be accelerated. It's everyone's responsibility, but above all that of the public authorities, to think and act. We can't rely solely on companies and individuals to change behavior in order to adjust. We may need to reform international cooperation and review trade rules. At the same time, we need to ensure the economic, health and legal security of our world. We have to be very skilful, otherwise we may fail. And if we fail, we run the risk of heading towards deglobalization.

Looking for a leader

Right now, the problem is that there isn't really a pilot in the plane. The United States, which has been the leader of the world economic order since 1945, no longer plays that role. They threaten to tear up all trade agreements and walk out of all international organizations. Yet they don't. It's a kind of rhetoric, a style of communication they employ.

Who else could take the reins? Perhaps China... We sense that its strategy is to expand its economic and political power. But so far, we don't know what it thinks of the world order, or how it sees its role in a post-Covid world. What's more, we don't know how transparent it was at the start of the pandemic, or how it will be assessed by the rest of the world in the coming months.

It could also be Europe, although it's very preoccupied with certain internal problems. It could play a leading role with the USA and Canada. The latter has an agreement with Europe - the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). This is a good basis. But this agreement is still in its infancy. We'll have to see if it can age well, develop well, and see how it can tackle the issues raised by Covid.

Looking to the future

By the end of the crisis, there will be no such thing as zero risk. Health issues will remain central to the reorganization of globalization. I hope that what we learn about China's management of the pandemic and its ability to collaborate with international organizations will enable us to strengthen the missions, mandates and competencies of these organizations. International cooperation is based on the principle of sovereignty. Despite this, sanctions are needed against countries that do not pay sufficient attention to global health security. I'm not thinking of punitive sanctions, but rather of ways to encourage transparency, mechanisms that would enable organizations to realize that what needs to be put forward is collective security. This is necessary for better future collaboration, in anticipation of the next pandemic or economic crisis which, with globalization, will not respect borders.

Ms. Rioux's comments were gathered by Maryse Guénette.