For decades, East Asia and the Pacific region sustained rapid economic growth while lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.
And through much of 2020, some countries in the region were a model for how to keep Covid-19 at bay. But now, as the prospect of a quick recovery from the global pandemic recedes, the region risks losing ground.
COVID-19 continues to buffet countries, hitting business and livelihoods and subjecting communities to a roller-coaster of lockdowns and re-openings. Economic growth, while reviving from the lows of 2020, is highly uneven across countries and across sectors.
And vaccination roll-outs in some cases are moving slowly, hampered by supply shortages and logistical constraints.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As I write this, wrapping up my first visit to Asia since the beginning of the pandemic, I am reminded of the region’s remarkable capacities and resilience.
I also believe that there is one critical element that is not receiving the attention it deserves: regional cooperation. Working together could substantially accelerate the recovery in East Asia and the Pacific.
Victoria Kwakwa Regional Vice President, East Asia and Pacific, The World Bank
There are three clear opportunities for collaboration.
One, ending the pandemic. The region can work together on vaccine production and deployment within a global context of greater supply and cooperation . Some countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, are already looking at expanding production capacity.
Increased coordination could allow for better matching of supply and demand and targeting to where needs are greatest. And this spirit of cooperation could be extended beyond vaccines to other critical supplies, such as personal protective equipment, masks, and testing kits.
Efforts can also be made to scale up knowledge and information-sharing, with a focus on best practices for containment, testing, and tracing. Such cooperation is far from unprecedented and could build on existing regional mechanisms, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ comprehensive COVID-19 recovery framework. The broader the efforts to end the pandemic, the quicker the entire region can reopen.
Collaboration is also needed in reviving the economy
Second, collaboration is also needed in reviving the economy. Poverty has spiked in East Asia and the Pacific since early 2020 as entire sectors and industries, including tourism, remain shuttered. Governments have increased fiscal stimulus and social protection schemes, but these efforts have often fallen short as economies struggle to cope with the most recent waves of infections.
If countries in the region and globally can…