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Facing the new order of globalisation: rethinking international cooperation

From Akiko Suwa-Eisenmann, member of Le Cercle des économistes

Read her biography

The outbreak of COVID-19 as a global health emergency and the resulting socio-economic crisis is testing global structures of cooperation. The challenges give rise to new forms and expressions of transnational solidarity and partnerships. The systemic challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis, and the responses we have already seen, will probably fast-track the transformation of the old paradigm of traditional development co-operation towards a model of international co-operation between all countries at an equal footing.

Despite a pre-crisis context fraught with geopolitical and trade tensions, it has become necessary an international coordination to fight both the pandemic and the crisis and to build forward better. The international community has responded in several ways in particular for the expansion of global liquidity and supporting countries’ recovery processes: the fast response by the international financial institutions over 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Special Drawing Rights (SDR) allocation or the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI).  Moreover, efforts have been devoted to ensure access to vaccines to developing countries. Today, more than one hundred economies have received life-saving COVID-19 vaccines from COVAX, the global mechanism for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

However, the international community also acknowledges that these initiatives are not enough and are in many cases flawed by already established international rules and governance, which impede facing a crisis of global dimensions. For example, according to today’s rules, if the IMF were to allocate $500 billion through SDR – which was requested by African ministers -, the African continent would only be allocated $25 billion. The decision on SDR allocations is a response to the urgent need to boost global liquidity, while providing developing countries with much-needed resources to support recovery efforts; but the IMF allocates SDRs to member countries in proportion to their IMF quotas.

In the same vein, international rules over trade agreements and property rights are not serving the purpose of facilitating a massive production and distribution of vaccines. Discussions to temporarily waive some provisions of the Trade Related Aspects of the Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement have not come to a positive end.  The proposal by India and South Africa, would facilitate technology transfers so that Covid-19 medical products, including vaccines, could be produced quickly and affordably by manufacturers around the world. In this sense, the proposal of the United States in support for a global waive on patent protection for COVID-19 related vaccines is a good step in widening the access to vaccines, yet manufacturers need to be urged to also transfer know-how to boost global supply.

With a crisis of global dimensions, international rules and global governance can play a significant role in enabling international cooperation for a fast, inclusive and resilient recovery. Integrated responses came across therefore as essential when facing challenges that are multidimensional in nature, interconnected and globally shared. In this context, defining new partnerships and frameworks or modus operandi to facing  global commons becomes increasingly important. Is this a new narrative for international co-operation, particularly with co-operation budgets coming under increasing pressure in advanced economies? How can these new narratives shape new global rules and co-operation frameworks for future crises? How can they at the same time safeguard national priorities and specific local endowments?

The North-South co-operation model remains important, but it is continuously losing predominance. A new model of co-operation needs to embrace actors from all spheres bringing valuable solutions from all development partners at an equal footing. It needs to grasp t policy incoherencies, find integrated solutions to increasing complex issues, and break silos across policy communities and across countries from North to south, among other things.  South-South co-operation has received a push in terms of visibility and has also spurred creative solutions. At the same time, we also see other forms of co-operation becoming increasingly prominent. Examples represent co-operation that is increasingly multi-directional and universal, multi-stakeholder and innovative. Regional cooperation initiatives in response to the COVID-19 crisis, like those in the African continent have also showed innovative ways of cooperation which leverage the marginal benefits for its member countries.

The opportunity is in front of us to rethink international cooperation as a tool for the new order of globalisation. Learning from what works and does not work, as well as capturing innovative practices across the globe becomes crucial in this endeavour. How can we support a transformation of international co-operation with a facilitating role of sustainable development? Which learning and sharing mechanisms could be put in place to facilitate a learning process for rethinking international co-operation?  What is the role of international institutions and regional bodies in such a transformation? What barriers need to be faced in achieving an equal footing cooperation and representativeness?