Has the Covid-19 Pandemic Induced Anti-Globalism in 2021?

By Armaan Gheewala

The Covid-19 pandemic, initially thought to be constrained to 2020, has caused mass economic and social damage even in 2021 and is continuing into 2022. However, with the pandemic beginning nearly 2 years ago, governments have tightened their borders, restricted international travel, posing the question: has the pandemic induced anti-globalism?

The largest major economic impact of the pandemic, which was felt in the majority of 2020, was the drastic reduction in international travel and trade. In 2021, the success of vaccination programmes has allowed the world to return to a somewhat normal state in which relaxations of travel restrictions have allowed holidaymakers to plan trips and imports to return to pre-pandemic levels such that growth was no longer negative. However, much of the success of the vaccination programme is constrained to wealthier countries, mainly due to ‘vaccine hoarding’ by high income countries. That is, by September 2021, 60.18% of citizens in high-income countries had at least their first dose, compared to 3.07% in low-income countries, with the richest countries being prioritised as they can afford vaccines in bulk. This unequal distribution means that poorer countries are left vulnerable to mutations of the virus, exemplified by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant which led to restricted travel to and from African countries, reducing their tourism revenue, prompting the ‘me first’ approach, as quoted from the leader of WHO, where he further explains that this anti-global sentiment will only prolong the pandemic. This has added to the ever-present issue of global inequality which has been exacerbated by the pandemic as lower-earning households have been affected disproportionately.

When examining trade policy, trade liberalisation has been increasingly opposed since the 2008 financial crisis but the pandemic has further induced this protectionism, placing free trade in a precarious position. To minimise transmission of the virus, a culture of reduced trade has catalysed the already trade-conscious atmosphere in the West, leading to ‘limitations in the global supply chain’, evidenced through U.S. President Joe Biden’s extension of ‘many of the protectionist measures introduced by his predecessor – including trade tariffs on metal imports’, clearly showing America’s stance on boosting domestic production. Unsurprisingly, a similar stance has been taken in the U.K., where agricultural policy is being modified to limit the impacts of Brexit – most notably the loss of access to tariff-free goods from the EU thereby forcing Britain to rely on its domestically produced goods. These policy choices are further supported by the impacts of climate change as governments scramble to reduce their carbon footprint and promote sustainability through reducing exports. 2021 documented ‘record atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and associated accumulated heat have propelled the planet into uncharted territory’ therefore, in conjunction with COP26, global leaders are looking to promote more climate resilient policies, which in theory would reduce international trade of physical goods as domestic production requires a smaller carbon footprint.

One of the largest antisocial events occurring earlier in the year was the rise of hate crimes against Asians. Since the pandemic began in 2020, Asians had been verbally and physically abused and blamed for the spread of the Pandemic. However, 2021 saw an exponential rise in physical attacks, prompting the gathering of activists to protest against this despicable and indefensible violence. This is evidenced in the brutal nature of the attacks such as ‘an 89-year-old Chinese woman who was slapped and set on fire by two people, in New York’ highlighting the threat xenophobia poses to Asians around the globe. This creates a culture of fear and prejudice which is known to hamper economic development. In response, President Biden ‘signed into law the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, to address the rising rate of anti-Asian attacks’ which will designate federal resources and funds to local and state officials in efforts to ease the procedure of reporting these crimes, calling more attention to the brutality of these incidents and better educate the local population about the diversity within the Asian community.  

On the other hand, increased globalisation can be observed in other realms. The global scientific community collaborating in their research and development efforts in obtaining safe and effective vaccines as well as exploring different forms of medication to fight the virus. And, of course, the unprecedented amount of work and education taking place online. For example, with the bulk of classes, meetings and interviews taking place over online calls; this has allowed for institutions to reach a wider audience, facilitating more collaborative innovation, the increased sharing of ideas and more accurate matching of job seekers and finders. A widespread increased reliance on the internet, however, has allowed for multinational companies to incorporate one of their main motivators (reducing costs) with the potential of outsourcing higher skilled work. Long before the pandemic, the developed world saw the bulk of their agricultural and manufacturing sectors move to Eastern nations like China, India and Bangladesh due to lower labour costs. This process combined with the generally cheaper costs of technology, is now being extended to fields like ‘telemedicine and online consultancy’ where the importance of them have been magnified by the pandemic. Hence, this creates a large task for governments as currently these fields are unregulated, thus allowing for the spread of misinformation and exploitation of labour and the consumer.

Within the first month of 2022, it is still very apparent, that the impacts of the pandemic will remain pertinent for the foreseeable future. Whilst the pandemic has caused anti-global sentiments, much of these policies appear to be short-term whilst the industries, art and education that have been created are very much long-term.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and may not reflect the opinions of The St Andrews Economist.

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