Former UK Health Secretary Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell says there is an urgent need for dialogue between countries to build an open and sustainable global trading system that underpins economic security for millions of people
Over the past few weeks we have all been on a steep learning curve as we have taken on board the full implications of the covid crisis.
In the first few weeks it was easy to talk of “defeating the virus” and hope for a quick bounce-back of economic activity following a sharp short-term slow-down.
This talk now belongs to another era.
It is increasingly clear that the questions we now face concern the shaping of a new world, not the restoration of normality. We should not underestimate the significance of the decisions that the governments of the world are starting to take on our behalf. There is a real sense that we face a ‘1945 moment’ that will shape our world for decades to come.
In recent weeks, the focus of all governments has been their response to Covid-19. Some have demonstrated ruthless effectiveness; others have revealed the value of careful and systematic planning, while others again have displayed instincts that call their judgement into question.
None has been perfect, and all will ultimately face the judgement, by different means, of their local political processes.
But several themes are already starting to emerge.
The most obvious concerns the global implications of the pandemic. It is not necessary to believe any of the wilder conspiracy theories to recognise that the pandemic has been a shared human experience and that the policy and clinical response has not been as coordinated as most of us would have hoped.
Development of new strains of infectious disease has been recognised for some time as a major threat to human welfare but, despite substantial warnings – and occasional demonstration exercises – the record of many governments, and international institutions, has failed to offer a convincing response to the threat.
It is, by definition, impossible to respond to a global pandemic on a national basis unless the nations of the world either withdraw into isolation or support the development of effective standards and expectations for international cooperation. That international effort needs to address the manifold challenges presented by a pandemic, from the process of tracking and tracing the spread of the disease, through the availability of drugs and equipment to the development of effective therapies and immunisation programmes.
One of the urgent priorities for all governments as they respond to recent events will be to apply the lessons that should have been learnt following the SARS and MERS epidemics, and develop more effective international programmes to combat infectious disease pandemics in the future.
But the Covid crisis has demonstrated that an infectious disease pandemic is much more than a public health event. The Bank of England is currently projecting that Covid will result in the deepest UK recession since 1706. That will clearly cause deep social and economic damage – as well as extensive secondary health effects, which threaten to be at least as serious as the primary effect of Covid itself.
The detailed impact of the coming global recession will vary from country to country, but none of us can afford to be sanguine about its implications either in our own country, or for the international community in which we all live.
History teaches us that economic stress causes political turbulence. We know that many of our societies have not yet come to terms with the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008, and that there has been a growing sense, in particular in many European and American countries, that the social settlement needs to be rebalanced.
So, any attempt simply to restore the status quo ante seems doomed to fail – and, to my mind, deservedly so.
We believe there is an urgent need to open a dialogue, between countries as well as within them, about our priorities in the new settlement and I am therefore delighted to invite you to join me as part of this new series, The World Economic Series: Rebooting the World Economy.
Our focus will be on the need for a shared commitment, across countries with different political systems, to build an open and sustainable global trading system, which underpins economic security for many millions of people who were marginalised before the Covid crisis, and who are now threatened with exclusion from the benefits of economic activity.
Many of those people live in countries for whom the pre-Covid world order did not work; others live in rich countries for whom the pre-Covid social order did not work. All of them, and all of us, share an interest in addressing the causes of that failure in order to build a world that provides a secure and sustainable environment for entrepreneurs and innovators.
This series of video conferences will offer the opportunity for Ambassadors in London to show and explain their country’s perspective on these themes and their thought leadership to a global audience of policymakers, politicians, diplomats and business leaders, and share analysis on the future as their government sees it.
At a time when travel limitations and lockdown restrictions will prevent us from gathering in person for the foreseeable future, the sophistication of modern technology does allow us still to communicate meaningfully and kickstart a conversation that will underline the renewed importance of international collaboration in the new Covid world, and unpick the themes I have attempted to outline above.
Together, I hope we can create a new global virtual forum to share thought leadership and innovation from around the world and begin cementing a new role for international values and cooperation.
I would be delighted for you, London’s diplomatic community, to join in creating this opportunity.
For further information regarding Diplomat magazine and Public Policy Projects’ new video conference series: The World Economic Series: Rebooting the World Economy, please contact Venetia van Kuffeler on E: firstname.lastname@example.org