ECLAC chief says COVID-19 pandemic puts C'bean at 'civilising crossroads'

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ECLAC chief says COVID-19 pandemic puts C'bean at 'civilising crossroads'

Friday, April 24, 2020

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SANTIAGO, Chile (CMC)— The Executive Secretary of the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, says the COVID-19 pandemic has put the region at what she describes as “a civilising crossroads”.

“Either we return to a globalisation of concentration that is authoritarian and to the same institutional design, or we build a different future,” said a Bárcena, during a virtual seminar organised by the Carolina Foundation of Spain.

ECLAC said that the event entitled 'Multilateral Action in Ibero-America in the Face of COVID-19', was moderated by Cristina Gallach, the Spanish government's State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and for Ibero-America and the Caribbean.

Besides Bárcena, other participants included Sebastián Nieto, Head of the Latin America and Caribbean Unit within the Development Centre of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); Andrea Costafreda, from the organisation Oxfam Intermón; and Pablo Nemiña, an expert from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) and the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) in Argentina.

In her remarks, Bárcena affirmed that the world is facing “a global public evil, similar in magnitude to climate change, which demands that health be protected.”

To achieve that, she said, “it is necessary to call for a different kind of multilateralism, which addresses the dimension of the crisis we are experiencing.”

Bárcena called for “a radical reformulation of North-South relations” and for moving towards “a new and more democratic multilateralism that can truly respond to this crisis and to the scenario that will follow the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The multilateralism that exists now is insufficient, because it proposes the same solutions as always, offering bilateral responses and not a truly collective solution,” the ECLAC chief said. “Just as the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, I am calling for a debt standstill for all countries, especially middle-income ones, because the majority of them do not have the wherewithal to cope.”

In order to build a civilising future, Bárcena said countries must ensure that people have a universal basic income for citizens, “which, if it were equivalent to an extreme poverty line, would not cost more than two per cent of GDP [Gross Domestic Product].

“If sights were set a little higher and income equivalent to a poverty line was contemplated, the cost would reach 4.7 per cent of GDP, a figure below the 6.3 per cent of GDP represented by tax evasion in the region,” she said.

“The State's fiscal scheme must be changed; let's put public resources into shoring up income. The most important thing to do in this emergency is to protect income. We must protect workers and those who are most vulnerable, including women, who represent 71 per cent of health sector workers,” Bárcena added.

The ECLAC boss also expressed confidence that regional integration is the best option for confronting this crisis “through the creation of production networks and the diversification of suppliers in terms of countries and companies, privileging locations that are closer to consumption markets and relocating strategic production-related and technological processes in the region”.

“After this crisis, the global economy will be regionalised around three poles: Europe, North America and Asia. Latin America and the Caribbean cannot continue depending on the United States at a time when that country is not in cooperation mode,” Bárcena added.

“We number nearly 650 million inhabitants, and we can protect ourselves to be able to manage the external shocks the region is experiencing, make new industries viable, and promote networks for production and technological research among countries and subregions.”

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