With so much discussion around COVID-19 and what will, and will not happen across the global economy – it struck me that perhaps in an Australian context we should be changing the narrative a bit.
The Covid-19 Global Pandemic has impacted nearly 2 million people at the time of writing and sadly many have lost their jobs, or worse. The global economy is in near meltdown as the crisis unfolds and indeed the Australian Government has unleashed almost AUD$150BN to help keep the Australian economy from collapsing.
Our world is generally dominated by economies so much larger than our own, but the crippling effect of the pandemic has struck those nations much harder then Australia and its near cousin New Zealand.
This could leave both countries in an enviable and somewhat unusual position of having near zero cases of the virus, and due to our “lucky country status”, enough population and resources to actually be near self-sufficient as we move into what is likely going to be, a prolonged recovery period.
The reality of the Australian economy is slightly more complex then that, I appreciate we are a cog in the wheel of global trade, but if we concede that the global system, at least for the near term, is fractured – there is a very big and unique opportunity for Australia and New Zealand to create a South Pacific economic zone, that can be broadened to include countries that eradicate or control the disease over time.
Australia and New Zealand have a chance to lead the world while America and Europe is hamstrung by the longer term reality of the crisis. China is perhaps sidelined also by both skepticism over their control of the virus and their initial response to the situation in the first place.
Indeed, if Australia and New Zealand work together on a unified policy to see out the next few months and reduce the virus to near Zero, the major threat to the national health system will be alleviated and domestic commerce, zonal trade, events and even travel could return.
Islands like Fiji or other South Pacific nations with our help, could also limit their cases and the zone extended to keep these tourism based economies alive with tourists from across the region. It may even have a political benefit given concerns over China’s increased political influence across the South Pacific over recent years.
Parts of South East Asia and even South America might be encouraged to be included in the “Economic Zone” as well.
The government is clearly focused on the monumental task of keeping the population safe right now, but like business, as a nation we must also have an eye on the next move. No doubt the easy path will be to ride out the storm, and return to the status quo, re-connecting us to our largest traditional trading partners in a business as usual approach – but is that realistic?
I don’t think we can genuinely hope for a return to life as we knew it, at least anytime soon, the game has changed. Its time to be proactive, there will be few times in history where our tiny nation(s) could exert such regional and global leadership.
It won’t last forever, we know that, but in the meantime Australia, New Zealand and those nations in the region who have the capability to resolve the health aspect of this crisis, have an opportunity to sustain and even improve their economic outlook in the current circumstances, by building regional solidarity and co-operation at a time when the pull and influence of the global superpowers is undertaking what you might call economic distancing!
For Australian businesses, such an opportunity I think calls for further investment at a government level, further incentives to help further kick start the region.
Regardless of whether or not the government see this as an option, with the likelihood of Australia and New Zealand being one of the first western economies to at least control the virus and come out of isolation, there will be few of our big friends able to play for a while so refocusing your business on a domestic market and our neighbor(s) I think is imperative – remember people will be enthused by new found freedom, following isolation, and the world with which they emerge will have changed. The business landscape and the rules of the game have been blurred – This is going to mean there will be some genuine opportunities on the long road to recovery and they are likely, for now, to be closer then you think!
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