Coronavirus – Economic Recovery through Trade – Peer-to-Peer Learning

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Best practices in dealing with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and promoting a conducive business environment for economic recovery were discussed in a Peer to Peer Learning webinar, organised in July 2020 for South-Eastern African countries[1]. Presentations were made from representatives of various think tanks and government authorities from Madagascar, Malawi and Mauritius. The webinar, organised by the Regional Multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence (RMCE) and International Economics Consulting Ltd., was opened by the World Bank, who reiterated their support to all participating countries, in fighting the coronavirus.

Opening

Mr Prakash Hurry, Officer in Charge of RMCE opened the webinar, welcoming participants and mentioning that this webinar is the start of a series of webinars. The aim of the webinar is to obtain best practices to handle the COVID-19 pandemic from countries in the region.

Mr Emre Ozaltin, Programme Leader (Human Development) at the World Bank, provided further opening remarks, reiterating the World Bank’s commitment to reducing the economic impact of the coronavirus. The World Bank reacted very quickly at the early stages of the pandemic, by making USD 12 billion available to participating countries, with a pledge of an additional USD 150 billion over the next fifteen months.

“The World Bank is pleased to launch this regional project, to facilitate the procurement of needed supplies by connecting countries in the region to suppliers.”

Emre Ozaltin, The World Bank

Access to the necessary supplies is extremely difficult. This is where regional trade solutions to combat the coronavirus can provide an attractive route to countries where medical supplies are available, while at the same time supporting economic recovery in those countries.

Public sector measures to fight coronavirus

Dr Kaviraj Sukon, Director General at the Open University of Mauritius, explained how the university has trained tutors to deliver online courses. They made use of digital platforms, including the national broadcasting agency, the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation, to dispense online courses to home-locked students. The programme included online tutoring and home exercises. As a result, students who were confined at home, could follow the curriculum, as if they were sitting in the classroom. This allowed students to study independently, but without feeling isolated.

Dr Jaime de Melo, Scientific Advisor in Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment Modelling at International Economics Consulting Ltd. and Emeritus Professor at the University of Geneva, gave an exposé on how tourist islands have fared during the pandemic. He also talked about how the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement can help in this situation, by developing a regional supply chain for medical products to alleviate import dependence. Many African countries have reduced barriers for the import of medical products and so have been tempted to implement bans on exports. However, he argued that an earnest start at implementing the AfCFTA would be beneficial to participating countries.

Dr Seetanah Boopen, Associate Professor in International Economics and Finance at the University of Mauritius and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Chairs Programme Co-Chair, presented a possible study on the impact of COVID-19 for businesses. The study looks at the trade impact of the virus by assessing the effects on imports of intermediate foods. Dr Boopen also talked about how the study will delve into investment and employment impacts.

Private sector experiences and challenges for coronavirus economic recovery

Union des Chambres de Commerce et d’Industries de l’Ocean Indien (UCCIOI – The Indian Ocean Chamber of Commerce) Director, Ms Virginie Lauret spoke about how the chamber is working towards collaborating with the public sector, to provide concerted efforts of cooperation. They are aiming to identify the needs of the private sector in the region, and to provide additional, and complementary measures with a regional scope. She also mentioned that a commission had been set up between members of the chambers, to discuss the economic recovery of the participating countries. It has been noted that the countries are not yet self-sufficient to face the crisis, in terms of local production. They are working towards regional cooperation, to reduce the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 impacts on trade, logistics and transport, which are a major component in the recovery effort. To shed light on this, Mr Neerish Chooramun, Corporate Manager at Velogic, was present to give some insights on their operations. They managed to arrange for medical supplies and equipment to be shipped to Mauritius, despite the fact that there were no scheduled flights. They had to deal with flight suspensions, empty cargo shipments and increased controls at borders.

However, they foresee a boom in e-commerce activities, with the creation of new online platforms for service and product delivery. Mr Chooramum also mentioned that supply chains are likely to be revamped, as exporters and importers are diluting their usual concentration on their procurement and sourcing origins to ensure resilience.

He also mentioned that the measures implemented by the Government of Mauritius, including improved COVID-19 economic measures, such as enhanced trade facilitation, waiving of certain charges and fast-tracking customs clearance on essential products, which facilitated the import of medical supplies and protective equipment.

Ms Anouchka Razakandisa, Operations Officer at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) concluded the webinar, emphasising how the IFC helps companies willing to switch to the production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), by providing financial and technical support to achieve this. The IFC facilitates manufacturers to obtain adequate raw materials and ensure that the products are of acceptable standards. The IFC has also introduced a PPE Calculator, which will guide the company on how to assess investments and working capital needs.

Conclusion

COVID-19 impacts on finance led the World Bank to provide the necessary support to countries, in terms of grants on highly concessional terms. As of May 2020, the Bank has reached 100 developing countries – home to 70% of the world’s population. The webinar concluded on a thought – what measures could be taken in order to allow the private sector to tap into regional opportunities.

Mr Paul Baker, Chief Executive of International Economics Consulting Ltd. and Lead Programme Coordinator for the project, thanked all present participants for their contribution in making the webinar a success.

[1] Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Reunion, Seychelles and Zambia