During the heydays of globalization, the prospects for economic growth and political accommodation were bright enough to vouch for the possibility that borders will become irrelevant in next few decades. But the liberal international order which fuelled globalization is collapsing with the rise in nationalism and protectionism across the countries. This view is forcing people to re-think about globalization and its prospective benefits and losses. The prevailing coronavirus pandemic and the devastation, it has brought to global economies by exposing the vulnerabilities inherent in interdependence and globalized trade will force countries to re-orient their conception of porous borders to a more rigid and restrictive one.
Globalization has promoted the inter-flow of goods, ideas and people by lessening the restriction that politically separates two states. The global order necessitates movement of people, capital, finance while emphasizing the importance of supply chains and distribution networks, which are essential for world economy. But this does not mean borders have become irrelevant. Whatever may be the scale of globalization, economic integration between countries is not as optimistic as projected. The prevalence of tariff barriers and imposition of levies on foreign goods, caused by economic nationalism, are the major obstacles for economic integration. In addition to this, other non-tariff barriers like health & safety regulation, licensing and government procedures impact trade flows. Moreover, the tendency of states to trade more within borders, rather than outside, suggests home bias and preference for local trading instead of global one.
Unfortunately, contemporary times are hostile to globalization. This is evident with the rise of populist regime around the world playing nationalism and igniting immigration issues to win local support. The Trump’s America first policy and Brexit are the results of popular backlash against globalization. Economic populism and immigration agenda have drawn public attention, where native feels that their access to social and political resources are being taken away by immigrants. This recent course towards “de-globalization” is reinforced by the devastation caused by coronavirus pandemic. The reckoning that borders will not become completely irrelevant will be inevitably discerned in the post-pandemic phase, but the trend suggests this will be the likely outcome.
The coronavirus pandemic unleashed a disastrous impact on businesses and corporations around the world that have hitherto, benefited from economic integration and inter-dependence. The outbreak halted the major production economies across the world having repercussion for those dependent on them. This will lead countries to re-orient their supply chains and in post-pandemic world countries might prioritize proximate source rather than a distant one for procuring essential goods and services.
China’s economic slowdown and the subsequent collapse of the supply chain amid pandemic will force countries to realign their supplies from other potential sources. This shift of supply chains away from China will affect China’s economy and its growth. Such conjecture is more likely to be evident in post-pandemic period since world community is losing interest in China’s economy. The situation has become much more sensitive and precarious as China supplied low quality and sub-standard medical equipment to world community in difficult times.
This will force countries to restrict themselves within their borders and produce essential services like drugs, medicine, defence supplies inside the borders. The countries will prioritize their economies not on the basis of profits but on the foundation of typical necessities and security issues. Faced with low productions of medical equipment and beds during the pandemic, countries will be forced to produce these essentials without giving heed to comparative advantages.
For instance, the failure of countries in EU to provide Italy — one of its members — with necessary medical equipment and gears suggests that dependence in critical times could be self-defeating and nations must self-help themselves in such situations. More importantly, given the rise of belligerent China and its impact on world, countries will hustle for re-globalization rather than de-globalization, where they will prioritize trade with benign nations instead of revisionist one even at significant economic costs. Furthermore, from a risk analysis perspective, we could observe a growing trend towards favouring indigenous production bases while moving away from “globally dispersed production bases.” This aspect will be much more visible in critical areas rather than usual day-to-day businesses.
Notwithstanding the above pessimistic perspective, some domains have seen increased cross-border cooperation among states. Such domains, including scientific research on drugs and vaccine candidates, benefits from transnational contacts and exchange of scholarly research within world’s scientific community. The flow of research material and information is much more porous and penetrable through borders with the help of internet and communications facilities. For instance, since the start of the pandemic, world scientific community is busy discovering a new vaccine to deal with the crisis. This is only possible by more cooperation among researchers around the world and flow of ideas across borders.
The development of vaccine candidate and sharing of its vital information like vials among major vaccine producers around the world is the sign that globalization have made borders irrelevant when it comes to serving the humanity, where finding solution for global problems requires cooperative efforts. The world’s leading vaccine producer — Serum Institute of India — actively eyeing to make the vaccine available to third world countries without any prospects for profit indicates that certain vital essentials like vaccines will be much more able to cross borders than people in the future.
To conclude, borders acts as a division to separate national interest over global one and the question whether borders will be relevant or not must be analysed by being sensitive to domain or realms. In a post-pandemic world, borders will be more rigid for movement of people and economic exchanges of essentials. On the other hand, borders will be much more flexible and porous with regards to scientific communities and their research. Post-pandemic situation will make such thought a reality as world community will be much more willing to prevent any pandemic in the future. Thus, the context will be more likely to condition how different domains react to specific situations and consequently this will shape people/state’s attitude towards rigidity or flexibility of borders.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
The author is pursuing his M.A. in Politics and International Studies at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.