Fifteen Asia Pacific countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) during a virtual summit last 15 November 2020.
The biggest trade bloc estimated to be worth US$26.2 trillion or almost 30% of the world’s GDP was made between the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) state members, East Asian economic giants China, Japan, and South Korea, and Oceania’s Australia and New Zealand. It is considered bigger than both the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the European Union.
Initially, India was part of the talks but had to withdraw over lower tariffs that could hurt its local producers.
According to the ASEAN website, the deal is expected to “improve market access with tariffs and quotas eliminated in over 65% of goods traded and make business predictable with common rules of origin and transparent regulations.” RCEP would also encourage firms to invest more and generate jobs, providing the region its much-needed boost to recover from the economic slump brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
RCEP began as a draft during the 2011 ASEAN Summit in Indonesia, while its formal negotiations were launched during the subsequent summit in Cambodia.
Amid the diplomatic rows between multiple RCEP countries, the free trade agreement pursues a common economic interest among the members that might help deescalate or ease tensions. However, critics have argued that the agreement is not as comprehensive as the ten-member Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which includes a more significant reduction in tariffs on imports and provisions in labor and environmental standards.
Despite its differences from the CPTPP, the ASEAN-led RCEP is projected to add $209 billion annually to world incomes and $500 billion to world trade by 2030, according to the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution. The pact brings Asia to the center stage of world trade in the face of the declining US influence in the economic sphere.
World Bank recommends adapting disaster risk management for public health emergencies in Asia-Pacific
As the Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to plague the region, the World Bank suggested that Asia-Pacific nations identify the intersections between COVID-19 epidemiological models and risk models of natural hazards to enhance preparedness.
Countries in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean are already among the most vulnerable to disaster emergencies such as typhoons, storm surges, floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunami as it lies on the most active tropical cyclone basin on the planet and belongs to the Ring of Fire. When added to the scenario, public health emergencies such as epidemics and pandemics exacerbate the situation, leaving emerging and developing countries multi-handicapped as their vulnerable economy, healthcare, agriculture, and welfare can be easily overwhelmed by simultaneous crises. True enough, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tonga, and Vanuatu faced the devastating Tropical Cyclone Harold at the pandemic’s onset in March, while the Philippines suffered from three strong typhoons, namely Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses, from late October to early November 2020. Both instances caused the loss of lives, properties, and livelihood amid the already deadly pandemic.
While South Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam have utilized lessons learned from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) to respond to COVID-19, there is a considerable gap of knowledge and resources among poorer nations. For one, they do not have well-established systems such as disaster surveillance and disease outbreak alert systems (e.g., Singapore’s Disaster Outbreak Response System Condition) and maintained medical and emergency stockpiling. A well-coordinated bureaucracy and a ready legal basis also matter primarily in declaring a state of emergency and enacting travel restrictions.
While efforts such as surveillance dashboards, contact-tracing, geotagging are put in place, they would need to be integrated with natural hazard data and risk information. According to the blog post, “this will help improve local- and community-level awareness and preparedness for disasters, encourage proactive emergency management (such as planning for a surge in medical and crisis management services), and updating local policies and guidelines for safe evacuation.” One such example is the Tsunami Evacuation Guide during COVID-19 disseminated by Indonesia.
Below are the five ideas proposed by the World Bank in adapting disaster risk management systems for public health emergencies:
The COVID-19 pandemic taught governments worldwide invaluable lessons in strategically responding to and preventing an outbreak that must be institutionalized and cascaded to the communities to be sustainable. The people’s most potent defense is readiness and availability of necessary tools and resources. Until most of the world’s population has been vaccinated, there is a great need to properly enhance every nation’s ability to simultaneously deal with health and environmental hazards.
Source: Adapting disaster risk management for public health emergencies in the Asia Pacific region (worldbank.org)