Home Commentaries & Articles Globalisation in the Course of a Global Pandemic

Globalisation in the Course of a Global Pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak has brought the world face-to-face with an extremely unprecedented situation in peace-time, and a new climate of uncertainty for the road ahead. With several countries and regions across the globe locked down, economy and connectivity across territorial borders are severely affected. In recent years, globalisation has already begun to stagnate. This was largely reflected in Brexit, USA’s America First policy, and the ongoing trade wars between developed countries, with the international media often referring to this process of slowing down globalisation as ‘slowbalisation’.

The pandemic is likely to exert additional pressure on the already stressed state of globalisation. With several regions and countries locked down, global integration of trade and finance is likely to suffer. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP), the global implications of COVID-19 on the economy would include an economic downturn, not seen since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-2009. This is likely to highly disrupt the prominent liberal world order, dominated by globalisation.

Impact on the Global Economy

In terms of economy, the pandemic has brought to the forefront and reinforced the vulnerabilities that go hand-in-hand with global economic interdependence. According to the WTO, global trade could dip as much as 32%. As seen during the economic recession of 2008, the trade dip recorded at 10% in 2009 had led to a GDP decline of 3% globally. This emphasises on the fact that the correlation between global trade and growth is immense. Middle-income countries, whose economy heavily relies on trade and export-led growth are likely to suffer the most as countries will recognise the challenges that come with over-dependence on foreign supplies, eventually focusing on import substitution.

The IMF has estimated the loss from this pandemic to be close to USD 3 Trillion. Though developing countries like India could perform significantly better as a large proportion of their GDP still depends on agriculture, the COVID-19 crisis is forecasted to create devastating repercussions for corporations and businesses that have benefited from economic interdependence supported by cross-border supply chains. For instance, China is the world’s largest production base and lies at the heart of many supply chains and since the outbreak of the virus, many companies that had come to depend on China have been hard hit.

The restriction of people-to-people movement would further decelerate the ease of doing business across national borders. National governments will have to weigh the risks of contagious diseases against the benefits of ease of travel or may have to consider stronger safeguards. In the short run, the World’s Tourism industry is likely to be adversely affected even after the crisis gets over. Also, mobilisation of finance will be indirectly affected as less migration and business travel coupled with incentives to invest at home are bound to hinder transnational capital flow.

Political and Cultural Connectivity

Along with economic aspects, globalisation has also woven political, social and cultural connections across porous borders. A ray of hope is seen in this aspect of globalising, as an outbreak of a disease is unlikely to dampen the cultural relationship between nation-states built over the years. Historical trends are testaments to this fact. The transnational networks of culture, entertainment and its other affiliations have persisted beyond several disruptions and phases of xenophobia across geographic borders. As seen during the period of the Great Depression and at the time of World War II, the League of Nations continued to provide an intergovernmental umbrella for conferences on disarmament, labour organisations and sexual trafficking. These trends continued through the attacks of 9/11 in 2001 and the Great Recession of 2008-2009, a period when internet connectivity, as well as international tourism, continued to expand.

In a recent report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) states that “In moments of crisis, people need culture”. At a time when billions of global citizens are physically separated from each other, culture brings people together. There are several inspiring videos on social media where artists are performing for free for their neighbours and millions of people online. Similarly, academic conferences are being held where students and researchers from across the globe can participate and benefit. By providing hope, comfort and inspiration at a time of enormous uncertainty and anxiety, cultural connectivity is proving to be a common good for resilient societies.

Crisis of leadership

The virus is already playing into today’s nationalist narratives. While on one hand, the Americans believe that the Chinese are no longer reliable international players because they did not behave responsibly in timely notifying the WHO of the outbreak in their city of Wuhan. On the other hand, the Chinese are likely to perceive American measures to combat COVID-19 to be racially motivated to prevent the rise of China as a superpower. In retrospect, there seems to be a dearth of leadership at the global level to deal with the disaster. It is interesting to note that leadership displayed by women in their countries has been relatively ahead of other countries. This is reflected in the effective and prompt response to the crisis, and active transparent communication with the citizens on the issue, by the women leaders of Germany, New Zealand and Taiwan 

In previous cases of such global outbreaks, be it tsunamis, civil wars or pandemics, coalitions of countries have joined hands to coordinate a global response and generate the necessary resources. Science is important but not enough to understand the current pandemic; the situation is too important to be left to the scientists alone. In the current situation, we need a similar holistic approach to be taken by countries across the globe, such that economics, politics, medicine and civil society unite for coordinated international action


A solution to the crisis requires us to focus on the nature of the crisis. Though countries are likely to view this crisis through the narrow prism of nationalism and act domestically owing to political pressure, it is imperative to understand that such a perspective would be paradoxical to the nature of the challenge, which is truly global. There needs to be a multilateral approach to respond to the outbreak. Handling a crisis with immense global consequences would require global coordination rather than strategic autonomy. Since the pandemic does not recognise national borders and differences, a crisis at a global level also requires a global response, strengthened by multilateral cooperation at the regional as well as international level. 

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