In times of trouble, it is better for countries to work together in collaboration rather than in isolation. This has been shown during the Coronavirus crisis. Despite the unprecedented challenges faced by health systems, global economies and supply chains during the coronavirus pandemic, there are positive examples that international cooperation between countries has helped to combat the spread of the disease.
Germany sent in its air force to bring Italian patients to German hospitals for treatment. China produces and exports over 100 million masks a day – 12 times its supply prior to the outbreak and the Chinese government exports protective equipment to other countries who need it most.
Power of internationalism over isolationism
The global cooperation of countries working together to try to curb the spread of coronavirus shows the power of internationalism over isolationism.
Trade and labour supply protectionism that curb imports or exports while applying regulations to ensure people buy local rather than make global purchases, risk strangling essential external global supply lines, limiting product provision, raising prices, and creating labour supply deficits. Ultimately, it risks costing lives and business revenues.
The risks thrown up by isolationist policies have already been shown in the UK. The UK government’s go it alone bravado on Brexit will make it harder for the UK to rebuild its economy after the coronavirus pandemic.
The UK government is urging employers to “move away” from relying on “cheap labour” from Europe and invest in retaining UK labour instead.
UK farmers have warned that one-third of this summer’s food harvest could go to waste on British farms due to their unmet demand for agricultural labour at harvest time from July to October. This is mostly down to a chronic shortage of migrant labour caused by the coronavirus outbreak and post-Brexit restrictions on low-income workers. UK farms and food producers rely on a migrant workforce of 60,000 seasonal labourers mainly drawn from Eastern European countries.
Post-Brexit immigration plans
This is compounded by the UK government’s announcement on February 19, 2020, that low-skilled workers would not receive visas under post-Brexit immigration plans.
The British Poultry Council has warned that 60 percent of its 23,000 workers are EU nationals, and the new rules “completely disregard British food production and will damage national food security”.
One unintended consequence of the UK government’s coronavirus employee support scheme (announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on March 20) is that British workers will be paid 80 percent of their salaries during the current shutdown and may not have the incentive to take other jobs such as food-harvesting work.
This false economy of “go-it alone” isolationism during a pandemic is also shown in healthcare provision, both in terms of staffing and supply of materials.
EU procurement programme
The EU procurement programme for supply of urgently needed hospital ventilators, initiated by the EU commission, uses the bulk buying power of single-market member states to obtain priority for ventilators and protective equipment, which doctors have warned are in short supply in the UK.
The UK still has the right to participate in this initiative as it is still in the transition phase of leaving the EU and, therefore, remains a member of the single market for the time being. Yet Michael Gove has said he is assured the UK, as an “independent nation”, does not need the EU scheme to get extra ventilators and has failed to participate in it.
The UK government have also confirmed that it will not join the EU Covid-19 vaccine scheme. The UK government has also confirmed that it will leave Eurofound, a respected EU employment agency that is studying the impact of coronavirus on jobs and the economy.
While the UK displays traits of isolationism which, in turn, is risking the health and food supply chains that are currently required to combat the impact of coronavirus, it appears that many other countries are doing the opposite – reaching out through international cooperation and seeing the benefits of internationalism rather than isolationism.
Right now, it is the World versus Covid-19
The Coronavirus crisis provides us with an important reminder that many critical development challenges cannot be solved by individual countries working in isolation. There is a clear need for a collaborative approach to find ways to combat the pandemic. Because right now, it is the World versus Covid-19.
The government remains adamant that the UK will end the Brexit transition period at the end of 2020, despite the economic uncertainties surrounding the Coronavirus crisis and a lack of brokered new trade deals with countries around the world and without any post Brexit EU trade deal in place. At a time where the future is uncertain, the UK government’s isolationism and exceptionalism is adding to this uncertainty.
History has taught us that in times of uncertainty, it is better for the global community to work together than distancing itself by isolationism. We forget the lessons of history at our peril.