Think Tank (1/2021)
< Back
Multilateralism and Trade in a Post-COVID World
23 Feb 2021

On 23 February 2021, the Centre for Multilateralism Studies (CMS) hosted a panel webinar on the global pandemic’s effects on international economic cooperation. Dr Alica Kizeková, Head of Asia Pacific Unit and Senior Researcher at the Czech Republic’s Institute of International Relations, kicked off the session, elaborating how ASEAN Centrality has emerged from the pandemic relatively unharmed, considering an initial lack of coordinated action between member states in the first few months of COVID-19’s emergence. Despite the successful deployment of several mechanisms to manage health security and economic recovery, there were areas where the reassessment of regional cooperation might be necessary. This included amending trade facilitation goals, such as reducing cargo inspection times at the border, which might not be well-suited to a post-pandemic age.

Ms Alyssa Leng, Research Associate at Australia’s Lowy Institute, spoke on the changing contours of geo-economic competition post-COVID-19. China’s speedier economic recovery could enable a faster catch up to the US in terms of GDP, placing it well ahead of regional economic competitors such as India. Given that long-term, large-scale projects are less tenable due to fiscal constraints, she noted that vaccines could become a more popular economic diplomacy tool compared to resuscitating stalled infrastructure projects along the Belt and Road Initiative. These changes notwithstanding, China will remain a central geo-economic player. She added that while antagonising Beijing could result in trade retaliation risks for countries economically vulnerable to China, such economic punishments are generally painful on a sectoral rather than aggregate level.

Rounding off the discussion was CMS’ Asst Prof Lee Su-Hyun, who discussed the possible factors affecting the future trajectory of regional trade. She highlighted in particular, the disrupted and reshuffled supply chains, the ongoing US-China trade war, the switch to a Biden White House, and the signing of new regional and free trade agreements that have been shaping existing trade networks. However, it is too early to tell whether these trends would result in strengthened regional trade that would reinforce or undermine economic multilateralism on a global scale. She concluded that the efforts to strengthen multilateralism and reduce economic vulnerabilities might be better served by diversifying trade linkages, and by compensating economic globalisation’s losers to achieve further liberalisation.

Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel:

Click here for other webinars under the same series:

more info
Other Articles