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Protectionism no good for economies amid COVID-19: APEC expert

Some developing countries in Asia, including Vietnam, could still grow amid the COVID-19 pandemic due to an increase in domestic demands when the manufacturing sector recovers.

Illustrative image. – Photo

That's the verdict of Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat who was speaking Thursday in a virtual briefing on the pandemic impact co-hosted by World Economic Forum (WEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO). 

She warned against protectionism in the time of unprecedented contraction, stressing this would harm economies. Meanwhile, she recommended regional countries to carefully develop plans to open the markets. 

“At this time, it is important that we not retreat into protectionist measures and support each other in this endeavour,” she said. 

The economist called on governments to offer assistance for the healthcare system and social protection and suggested to ease tariffs on medical supplies including medicines, personal protective equipment and ventilators.

She urged for cooperation among APEC state members in ensuring a stable, transparent and non-discriminatory business environment to encourage investment and trade flow amid the pandemic. 

“Our concern has to be on the [COVID-19] impacts on the most vulnerable in our economy as well as vulnerable economies,” she said. 

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc last week called for greater efforts to restart the national economy with the aim of achieving a GDP growth rate of more than 5 per cent and keeping inflation under 4 per cent this year.

However, according to Rebecca, APEC’s real GDP is expected to drop this year by 2.7 per cent and some levels of unemployment were also forecasted. 

On behalf of WHO, Takeshi Kasai, Regional Director for the Western Pacific, stressed upon the significance of switching into the condition of the “new normal”, knowing that “as long as the virus is circulating somewhere in the interconnected world and until we have a safe and effective vaccine, everybody remains at risk”. 

As some countries start moving towards relaxing restrictions, the WHO official warned against the second wave of large-scale community outbreak. 

“Every country needs to continue being vigilant,” he added. “We should not have to choose between health and livelihoods. We have to bring up both,” said Kasai.  

He upheld the importance of testing especially in triggering public health interventions. 

“We should use test results to assess the situation where they are in terms of the epidemic and not only the number of cases,” he said, adding it is important to use multiple sources including positivity rate or death tally as well as encourage countries to monitor numbers of the healthcare utilisation such as ICU. 

On vaccines Kasai said WHO and its partners are ramping up an initiative called Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator to ensure the equitable distribution of a vaccine if one is found. 

“We see a vaccine as a global public good which belongs to everyone around the world,” he said. 

The WHO official also argued against criticism among governments in terms of differences in response strategies, emphasising that “there is not a one-size-fit-all approach”. 

“We might not do it in a perfect way at the very start. But we all have to learn as we move.”  VNS 

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