There are signs that the Covid-19 crisis is exaggerating, and possibly cementing, those changes.
“There will be a rethink of how much any country wants to be reliant on any other country,” said Elizabeth Economy, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I don’t think fundamentally this is the end of globalization. But this does accelerate the type of thinking that has been going on in the Trump administration, that there are critical technologies, critical resources, reserve manufacturing capacity that we want here in the U.S. in case of crisis.”
Consider just a few pieces of evidence for the weakening underpinnings of globalization.
France’s finance minister directed French companies to re-evaluate their supply chains to become less dependent on China and other Asian nations. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has said it will seize exports of certain medical supplies. And on Friday, Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that the United States should punish China for failing to contain the virus by canceling debt the Chinese government owns — a step that would risk the role of U.S. Treasury bonds as the bedrock of the world financial system.
Even before the coronavirus hit, the limits of globalization were becoming clearer.
Trade as a share of global G.D.P. peaked in 2008 and has trended lower ever since. The election of President Trump and the onset of a trade war with China had already made multinational companies start to rethink their operations.
“I think companies are actively talking about resilience,” said Susan Lund, a partner at McKinsey who studies global interconnectedness. “To what extent would companies be willing to sacrifice quarter-to-quarter efficiency for resilience over the long term, whether that’s natural disasters, the climate crisis, pandemics or other shocks?”
She envisions not so much a full-scale retreat from global trade as a shift toward regional trade blocs and greater emphasis on having companies build redundancy into their supply networks. Governments will probably insist that certain goods, like pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, rely more on domestic production given the current global scramble for those items.
China has reoriented its economic strategy, aiming to be not a low-cost manufacturing hub for the world but the maker of technologically advanced products like aircraft and telecommunications equipment. That has made Americans, Europeans and the Japanese all the more reluctant to have major operations in China, for fear of intellectual property theft.
Under the Trump administration, the United States has experienced strain with even traditional allies in Western Europe. Put it all together, and a more every-nation-for-itself mentality was already becoming ingrained before Covid-19, in ways the pandemic seems to be reinforcing.