Cooperation, less selfish acts can overcome post-Covid challenges like inflation, supply chain disruptions 

IF we take a few steps back and look at what is happening around the world today – the immediate future looks quite scary. Post-pandemic challenges, an unpredictable climate and increased tension within and between counties had resulted disruptive events, including shortages of commodities and services, disruption in the supply chain, inflation, natural disasters and acts of war and aggression.  

Countries, such as Sri Lanka, are facing financial ruin. Ukraine and Russia are embroiled in a war and Somalia is again facing famine. Food nationalism surfaced in counties like Indonesia, India and Malaysia, which banned export of food due to domestic shortages and then there is violence, such as mass shootings in the United States. More alarming is the confluence of events within a short span of time, raising the spectre of chaos in the foreseeable future.  

Many of the problems are interrelated and feed into each other. For example, prices of goods rise due to shortages from the disruption in the global supply chain, which is linked to lockdowns. The situation is compounded by the war in Ukraine, which impacted on the production and price of wheat and the boycott of Russian oil, which drove up global prices. The vicious cycle then feeds into the hike in prices of other goods and services.  

Interconnected challenges require a global solution. Unfortunately, the current state of multilateral organisations and operations is not helping with many either dysfunctional or in need of reforms. 

International trade is one of the main contributory factors towards economic development. Hence, unimpeded trade is important for the wellbeing of the global economy. The multilateral body that oversees international trade – the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – is barely operational.  

The failure to negotiate a new free-trade agreement and the Appellate Body, the dispute settlement court, remains a void with the US blocking any appointment, dampening the prospect of international trade growth.  

The United Nations – the face of multilateral organisation – is the subject of reform talks for decades. One of its objectives is to maintain international peace and security with the task falling on the UN Security Council (UNSC). 

At the top of the reform list is abolishing the absolute veto power of the five permanent members (P5). It is disconcerting when a P5 member uses its veto to either support aggressive acts by allies or avoid censure when it has committed an act of aggression against another nation. In addition, any change in the UN Charter requires approval of the P5 members, making the veto reform impossible.  

Nothing demonstrates the challenges, value and dynamics of multilateral organisation than the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Covid-19 pandemic. WHO, perhaps one of the global bodies that still function effectively, has been subjected to domestic agenda and politicisation by member countries, resulting in cuts in financial commitment and accusations of bias.   

Despite the challenges, WHO managed to guide and coordinate the global response to the pandemic. Moreover, through international cooperation and collaboration, the ground-breaking Covax initiative accelerated research and production to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines. If every nation were to embrace Covax, equitable vaccine distribution with progressive pricing would follow. 

Unsurprisingly, the Covax initiative was undermined. A number of governments negotiated the procurement of vaccines, thereby diverting allocation from Covax. While it is hard to fault a government wanting to do its best for its citizens, there are regrettable actions by some, including “overstocking” vaccines, donations to countries of strategic interests and incidents of discrimination.  

Regardless of the challenges, it is hard to fathom how the global community would cope with the pandemic without the presence of WHO along with other multilateral organisations, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. 

While it is hard to be optimistic about the prospect of multilateralism, there are some promising developments, including a climate change agreement, the recently concluded 12th ministerial conference of WTO and negotiations on digital trade and related ecosystem.  

It is necessary for the wellbeing of the global community to have functioning global bodies that look after the welfare of all in an equitable manner. Let’s hope that it will not take another world war or catastrophe for changes to happen. 

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