Post-Covid and Multilateralism



Multilateralism can be a strategy for the search for new directions, despite the expected resistance

Within the current international scenario, the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are the multilateral institutions that best meet the conditions for us to develop the necessary cooperation actions to combat the pandemic and its effects for the future . A future that will have to be different from the conditions that led to the emergence and proliferation of the pandemic.

This article discusses, based on UN and WHO actions, how multilateralism can be an alternative for the organization of social relations in the 19st century, on different scales, after the Covid-XNUMX outbreak. Initially, we present part of the initiatives of the two aforementioned multilateral organizations and, then, we analyze how Latin America and the European Union follow paths of cooperation in the search for solutions to the crisis.

On January 30, 2020, the WHO, for some belatedly, presented the Declaration of Public Health Emergency of International Concern in addressing the disease and soon after launched a plan of action (WHO, 2020). It was not the recognition of the pandemic, which occurred more than a month later, on March 11th. This delay is one of the focuses of criticism of the WHO. For example, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, accused her of being slow in declaring the pandemic, which, in his opinion, allowed for a greater geographical spread of the virus. On May 29, 2020, he announced his break with the WHO, two days after the WHO presented a manifesto in which he stated that it was necessary to go beyond returning “to normal” and seek new ways to organize life and the economy in in line with nature and in favor of quality of life (WHO, 2020a). For its part, the WHO argued that neither the virus nor its transmission capacity was known. This is an open question. Perhaps in the future we will have more documents that will allow us to say what actually happened. But there is no doubt that the delay for the pandemic to be recognized allowed the maintenance of the globalization process and its intense flows of people, products and materials, which spread the virus across continents.

Once the pandemic was recognized, the WHO began to develop a series of actions, often in conjunction with the UN. We are going to present in a chronological way part of the activities that these international institutions have developed to combat the disease.

The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, in March spoke about the need for cooperation between countries to seek alternatives to combat the disease. On March 28, the UN launched a Global Humanitarian Response Plan (UN, 2020), based on a demand from the WHO, which was budgeted, at first, at 2,1 billion dollars . Its budget quickly more than tripled: in May 2020 it was at 6,7 billion dollars. Who will provide this feature? Unfortunately, multilateral organs are being emptied. Which allows us to raise another important question: why was the international system not prepared to face a crisis like this?

The UN system itself recognizes, through the negotiations of the international environmental order on climate change and biodiversity conservation, which we have discussed at other times, that there was the possibility of a pandemic occurring in the terms we are witnessing, unfortunately. It is not possible to claim ignorance of this threat. Global warming, associated with the loss of biodiversity certainly leads to increased contact with viruses like this one, which, it is important to say, already existed in nature. Through deforestation, the available area for the reproduction of animals is reduced, which end up moving to areas occupied by society and breaking the geographic isolation that existed, as shown by biogeographical theories. The absence of antibodies results in the disease and, sadly, in thousands of deaths. This situation has already occurred at other times in history, which makes it possible to question why there was no prior international reserve fund to be withdrawn at that time. Hence, a first conclusion emerges: it is necessary to create an international fund to face pandemics, not least because new cases may arise.

In the absence of an instrument to finance programs to combat the pandemic, WHO proposed the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO (WHO, 2020b) – Solidarity Response Fund, which receives donations from people, companies, countries and international institutions. This fund has already raised approximately $224 million, with participation from approximately 390 contributors (June 2020). The amount is far short of what is needed for a global humanitarian response to the pandemic. As laudable as the creation of the fund and the solidary attention of thousands of contributors is, it is still insufficient compared to the amount budgeted by the UN. A response with such a volume of resources can only be given by contributions from countries, which resumes the role of the State, which, in addition to investing in helping the population and smaller companies, must also provide resources for preventive international cooperation in the face of pandemic crises.

On April 3, 2020, the UN General Assembly defined a resolution for solidarity between countries. On April 20, a new resolution by the same body reinforced international cooperation in the search for a vaccine, medicines and the provision of support material, especially personal protective equipment for health personnel, which resumed aspects that the humanitarian response plan itself had already presented (UN, 2020 aeb). Shortly afterwards, on April 24th, within the scope of the WHO, several world leaders recognized the need for cooperation. This fact corroborates the ideas of Israeli historian Yuval Harari (2020) and Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff (2020), among others, who believe in understanding to seek alternatives to the crises we face. How this cooperation will take place is a question for which we still do not have an answer.

On the 18th and 19th of May, the World Health Assembly took place, in which a possibility of real and concrete cooperation emerged. Among the decisions of that assembly, the WHO proposed a truce in the international trade rules regulated by the World Trade Organization (WTO) (WHO, 2020c). It is always good to remember that the WTO is not part of the UN system, so it is more difficult to have a direct interaction or action with it from an institution of the UN system. However, this multilateral institution provides in the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health (WTO, 2001), the possibility that member countries may request the non-collection of tariffs, patents and customs fees in situations involving public health, which is precisely the current situation. This would allow us to think, for example, that in the case of vaccines or drugs that may emerge in the fight against the disease, they could be distributed without charging fees and rights. Another important conclusion.

A few months after the belated recognition of the pandemic, we are witnessing an important multilateral cooperation effort that involves regional institutions and articulations of leaders in regional blocs.

In Latin America, the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) proposed a basic income for at least three months for the most needy in Latin American countries, in addition to reinforcing the goals for sustainable development as a way of reorganizing the activity economy (ECLAC 2020). The indicators of poverty and social inequality present in that part of the world justify such initiatives, but the question remains whether these proposals will be politically accepted and implemented. Working to reduce social inequalities would be a great action and an opportunity that the current crisis presents. We could generate a lot of jobs and work to reduce social inequality and produce quality housing, basic sanitation services, transport infrastructure, among other possibilities to reduce Latin American social and environmental injustice.

The European Union, still shaken by the departure of the United Kingdom, launched the European Recovery Plan, budgeted at 1,85 trillion euros, of which around 500 billion euros would be allocated as a subsidy to countries such as Spain and Italy, which were very affected. both in number of deaths and for having tourism as a central axis of their economic activity. Half of that amount, in response to pressure from the Netherlands, would be granted in a loan plan at lower interest rates than those practiced in the markets.

Some alternatives are launched to seek solutions for post-covid crises. In addition to public health challenges, it will be necessary to reorganize economic activity and create an international reserve fund for future pandemics. The world was more prepared for war than to face a virus. There are weapons left and masks are missing. This framework needs to be changed.

Both in Latin America and in the EU, there is a possibility of more cooperation, which in some way has repercussions on UN and WHO actions. This movement is not to be missed and is perhaps the biggest boost the virus has given humanity.

Socio-environmental theories (Ribeiro, 2010) provide important theoretical support for innovations in different fields of knowledge and for programs and public policies, whether supported by international agencies or applied at different levels of government. Associated with the goals for sustainable development, they can indicate paths that guide the creation of new jobs in search of a world with less social inequality, in which international cooperation prevails not only in extreme moments, as we are witnessing, but as a way balanced way of offering adequate living conditions to the population of the planet, as well as to other forms of life.

The challenges are before our eyes. To face them without daring would be to return to a pattern of social organization that proved to be disastrous in social and environmental terms. Multilateralism can be a strategy for the search for new directions, despite the expected resistance.

* Wagner Costa Ribeiro He is a professor at the Department of Geography at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Brazilian environmental heritage (EDUSP).


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