By Orville Williams
How can the Caribbean prepare for and mitigate the impact of future logistical disruptions in a post-Covid-19 world? That will be the topic of focus later today in the latest edition of the University of the West Indies Five Islands Campus’ Public Advocacy Series.
Looking beyond the devastation brought to healthcare systems and economies across the world, trade is among the sectors worst impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic on a global scale.
From a local standpoint, one can remember how panic-buying caused long lines at supermarkets at the start of the pandemic, followed by the speed with which certain products – particularly sanitisers and cleaning products – moved off store shelves, leading to the unavailability of some of those products after a while.
This trend worsened as the threat of the pandemic did, with some traders having to place regulations on the amounts of certain products that could be sold to any one person or family.
Like 24-hour lockdowns and social gathering restrictions, the aforementioned issues were not part of normal everyday life, but instead the indirect impact of global trade tensions.
The considerable increase in demand forced some trade partners in more developed countries to withhold their usual exports and where they did not make this decision on their own, some were mandated by their governments to do so.
In March/April last year, both India and the United States – two of the world’s biggest exporters – temporarily banned the export of ventilators and certain personal protective equipment (PPEs), including surgical masks and gloves. India even placed a temporary ban on all types of sanitisers.
The bans did not stop with medical equipment or cleaning supplies, as the Eurasian Economic Commission – which unites the Customs zone of Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as Armenia and Belarus – temporarily restricted exports of buckwheat, soybeans and rice, to protect their domestic supply.
A bit closer to home, Argentina – which contributed 22 percent of global maize (corn) exports in 2019/2020 – temporarily suspended those exports just this year, for the same reason.
Though these countries seem relatively far away, the complexity of the global supply chain means many of those kinds of occurrences will affect us here in Antigua and Barbuda and across the region. Bearing that in mind, it is imperative that innovation and creative strategising be applied, to ensure that we do not suffer as badly from similar disruptions, after the pandemic subsides.
For this reason, the UWI Five Islands Campus has tapped the expertise of Ambassador G. Anthony Hylton – Member of Parliament and former Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce in the Jamaican government – to lead the discussion.
Speaking to Observer ahead of the talk, Ambassador Hylton explained that a successful trade resurgence will rely on innovation – particularly through use of new technologies – and a change in the mindset of policymakers, entrepreneurs and the wider public.
He also talked up the importance of greater regional collaboration, to provide a closer, more dependable source market for products and services and to arm Caribbean countries with more leverage in talks with international counterparts.
“It’s the reason people like myself and others before me have to support the whole notion of Caricom. One may say it has not worked or is not working, but the truth is – as you saw from the call by the current chairman of Caricom for the WHO to respond to the challenges of the region – [Caricom] gives you a bigger platform and a bigger megaphone.
“[So] Caricom makes sense, not only intellectually, but it has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate its value in many ways that I think [are] little appreciated by the region.”
In furthering his point on collaboration, Ambassador Hylton referred to the relationship between countries of the OECS and, using the Five Islands campus as an example, highlighted some of the efforts made so far to prepare the region for a post-Covid-19 world.
“I think it’s precisely in areas like this that [the countries of] the OECS themselves have recognised their own vulnerabilities and have pulled together [with] the UWI Five Islands, a very important value addition and a critical structure that will help in addressing some of these vulnerabilities, which are structural.
“The vulnerabilities didn’t come about just because of Covid. Those vulnerabilities are real and therefore, [both] policymakers and the population as a whole have to make the kinds of decisions that will enhance their sustainability.
“One of those is the UWI Five Islands campus and the discussions of the new school [at the campus], for training in computer science and artificial intelligence, which I fully support.”
The discussion on Supply Chain Management and Logistics in the University of the West Indies Five Islands Campus’ Public Advocacy Series is scheduled to take place today, Monday February 22, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm Eastern Caribbean time.
Interested participants can register for free at fiveislands.uwi.edu/publicadvocacyseries.
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