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Experts call for concerted action to fight fallout of pandemic

Thursday,Apr 02, 2020

A hospital worker is sprayed with disinfectant at Guasmo Sur General Hospital after Ecuador reported new cases of COVID-19 in Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 1, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

The worldwide economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented challenge and requires comprehensive and concerted response from countries and the global business community, according to analysts. 

From global supply chain disruptions to economic stimulus packages across nations, the COVID-19 impact marks trying times that call for equally extraordinary efforts, world business leaders and analysts agreed in a major online forum organized by the Center for China and Globalization( CCG) leading think tank on Wednesday.

Wang Huiyao, president of the think tank, said it is critical for business communities, particularly those from countries bearing the brunt of the pandemic, to come together and offer coordinated solutions to complement government efforts combating the outbreak. 

"Cooperation is really the key to combat this coronavirus. China is willing to work with the world to support and help in whatever way it can. We want to facilitate, provide the platform, gather the wisdom and ideas … particularly from the business point of view," he said.

Jeff Astle, managing director of advisory and advocacy communications consultancy APCO Worldwide Shanghai, said the pandemic follows economic headwinds seen at the local and international level, with the challenges being compounded and calling for greater efforts to face them.

"Now with the COVID-19 global impact, foreign businesses are having their headquarters looking at their global strategies … rather than just looking at the short-term shock," he said. 

Stimulus measures and investment to stem the economic impact may also move to focus on emerging sectors such as technology, big data and new energy, targeting and benefiting Chinese businesses going forward, while many will also need to be stronger players as corporate citizens to engage better with affected communities, Astle said.

Nick Coyle, CEO and executive director of the China-Australian Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, said global supply chains in sectors from aviation to shipping affected by COVID-19 form some of the major challenges that require expertise to work together more across borders, including the sharing of information.

"We've had a lot of leading institutes at the global forefront sharing data, which will enable us to manage more effectively," he said.

"A lot of companies are now looking at their cost structures. Big companies will rationalize in a very different way." 

Cui Fan, professor at the University of International Business and Economics, said the international trading system is facing major crises and history has showed that such situations result in rising protectionism, which calls for caution. 

But emerging sectors such as technology may become more active in this difficult time and the large domestic market and demand of China, which has largely controlled and contained the outbreak, can help restart growth and spur momentum if its production activity can be reactivated earlier than other countries in the months ahead, he said. 

"I hope China and the United States can implement phase one of their trade deal. Countries need to cooperate with each other … not have more protectionism policies during this crisis, but suspend or decrease tariffs," he said.

"If we can open the Chinese market more to facilitate trade and investment activity, then we can make it easier for business for us to cope with this coronavirus."

Greg Gilligan, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said its members agree that the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on business across the world's largest economies and cooperation is "absolutely necessary at this time, with no time for spats".

Gilligan pointed to latest surveys that showed China remaining a "top long-term priority for most US companies, despite slowing growth, wider US-China tensions, longstanding business challenges in the country, and the COVID-19 outbreak".

"Perhaps it's the case that in this biological challenge which is resulting into an economic challenge, there'll be more motivation for reform to drive the economy," he said.

"Our members want support from the US government to find new commercial opportunities. They want support from the Chinese government for perhaps tax incentives and other fiscal policy to help out."

Clare Pearson, former chair of the British Chamber of Commerce in China, also highlighted the unprecedented impact of the pandemic that went beyond business to encompass major changes across various aspects of society, catalyzing innovation and integration in sectors like healthcare to bring the world closer in facing the pandemic together.

"The change over COVID-19 is that acquaintances are going to turn into allies … it's man versus microbe. We're all in it together. Anyone who's turning this into a geopolitical conflict has completely missed the point of where we are now today," she said.

"We're going to have innovation, globalization and integration in systems. There's been phenomenal response from US and European companies wanting to cooperate with Chinese governments to offer relief.

"There's been an incredible response globally to what is going on here."

Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, said these are uncertain times, with current economic models offering limited help to deal with the challenges. Major fiscal measures will still be needed to help economies, while borders will have to be reopened soon to prevent any standstill.

"We cannot come to a standstill, a standstill means that new poverty will spread across the global landscape and kill far more people than the coronavirus will ever do," he said.

Wuttke also stressed the importance of jobs during the crisis, with government providing support to companies to maintain employment.

"As multinationals we should continue employing our staff. We have an obligation, when the going gets tough … no employment means no demand in the future, which hurts the economy."

Zhou Yanli, former vice-chairman of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, said economic measures should include expanding the coverage of short-term export credit insurance to reduce insurance premiums within a reasonable range. There should also be more cooperation with major trading partners to improve policies related to export tax rebates to reduce corporate costs, he said.

"The international community should get together to contain the coronavirus with confidence," Zhou said. "We should strengthen cooperation of financial supervision and maintain stability of global financial markets … paving the way for more foreign investments in China."

From China Daily,2020-04-02
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