Global trading system must be maintained amid COVID-19 pandemic

By Mei Xinyu Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/26 14:39:36

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

While China has taken the lead in reining in the coronavirus pandemic and is steering toward restoring normalcy, the global spread of the virus is escalating day by day.

At present, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide is growing by more than 40,000 daily, and that figure is poised to break 50,000 within a few days. It is conceivable that as long as countries continue to conduct sufficient testing, the cumulative number of confirmed cases overseas will exceed 400,000 this month, breaking the 500,000 mark or even topping 1 million in April.

The ratio of confirmed cases to population (hereafter "confirmed rate") will be used here to measure the severity of the coronavirus outbreaks in each country and region. By the end of March 9, the total number of confirmed cases in the Chinese mainland had reached 80,754. With a population of 1.4 billion, that makes China's confirmed rate 0.58 per 10,000 people.

By this measure, even disregarding undercounting issues, outbreaks in many countries, including a number of Western economic powers, are more severe than China's. That may serve as a reminder of the critical test facing the global economy. As of 4:30 pm Beijing time on Wednesday, a total of 39 economies had seen higher confirmed rates than China. 

Those economies were: South Korea, Singapore, Brunei, Israel, Iran, Qatar, Bahrain, the US, Canada, Panama, Australia, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, San Marino, and Andorra.

A closer look at the list shows the G7 countries, excluding Japan, all have more severe outbreaks than China, as do 21 of the 27 EU member states.

Moreover, according to this calculation, the confirmed rates in North America and some developed European countries could be more than 20 times that of China. The US is close to seeing its confirmed rate reach three times that of China. The World Health Organization warned that the US could replace Europe as the new epicenter of the pandemic.

China has become an "oasis" in the global spread of the virus, with its domestic work resumption rate at 90 percent. South Korea has reached an inflection point and is bringing its outbreak under control. The pandemic is spreading rapidly in Europe and the US. Risks of major outbreaks are growing in emerging market economies. In the face of such a reality and for the sake of national interests and global common interests, China, as the world's manufacturing power and biggest exporter, must make forward-looking arrangements for world trade and the global economy. It needs to serve the role of major medical equipment supplier for the global fight against the virus. There is a need for China to show great responsibility in maintaining the normal operation of the global trading system.

Other than an insistence on economic openness and multilateral trade, China and its trading partners are also required to forge international cooperation to help in maintaining the normal operation of global trade and logistics strongholds, insulating them from coronavirus-induced disruption. By March 19, at least 43 economies had enforced varying lockdown measures - the closure of cities or nationwide lockdowns - and that number is on the rise. After lockdown activities are halted, stockpiles of manufacturing resources and everyday items would have been depleted. What kind of humanitarian disaster should we expect to see by then?

The Suez Canal, the Panama Canal and the Strait of Malacca are among the waterways considered global trade and logistics strongholds, rendering Egypt, Panama and Singapore international trade and logistics hubs. Once these countries are exposed to infectious diseases, global trade and logistics take a huge hit. 

The coronavirus pandemic has already been more severe in the likes of Panama than in China. With a population of 4.21 million, Panama had reported 443 confirmed cases as of 4:30 pm Beijing time on Wednesday, meaning the severity of the outbreak is about 1.8 times what China has seen. It is likely the nation faces rising risk.

The coronavirus outbreak in Egypt does not seem as grave, judging by official infection figures. With a population of 99 million, the African nation had reported 402 confirmed cases by 4:30 Beijing time on Wednesday. Nonetheless, its high population density and poor living and work environments expose the nation to the possibility of a severe virus outbreak. Some confirmed cases in Europe and the US are believed to be closely linked to Egypt, therefore there is a chance the disease has spread much more widely than is known, and some cases have yet to be diagnosed and reported due to insufficient testing among other reasons. 

In light of this, China needs to curb all risks, cooperating with these countries and relevant institutions on the virus prevention front. Management authorities of the Suez and Panama canals need to be protected from the disease in particular to maintain global logistics. Efforts in this regard are in the interests of international society and matter a great deal to the economic vitality of Egypt and Panama. 

The author is a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce.  


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