Bloomberg New Economy Forum

Deeper govt-business collaboration needed to prepare world for next pandemic, says Tharman

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (right) with fellow panellists at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum on Nov 17, 2021. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SINGAPORE - The world needs to develop its research, manufacturing and distribution capabilities in preparation for the next pandemic, and this will require much deeper collaboration between governments and businesses, said Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday (Nov 17).

He noted that the private sector will not be able to deliver what is needed on its own, since there is no way to predict which pathogen may cause the next pandemic.

That is why public funds are needed for "sharing risks", so that research and manufacturing facilities can be developed ahead of time.

He cited the United States Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or Barda, which partnered private companies to develop Covid-19 vaccines, and said the world needs a "global Barda".

"The cost of preparing in advance is infinitesimal compared to the cost of not preparing. That's the lesson of Covid-19," he said.

"And it requires international collaboration, and the cost of collaboration is infinitesimal compared to the cost of not collaborating."

Mr Tharman was speaking at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum as part of a panel on Two-Speed Global Recovery: The Dangers of a Widening Rich-Poor Gap.

Fellow panellist, Tanzanian Vice-President Philip Isdor Mpango, said he hoped to see more collaboration between developed countries and developing countries.

He noted that recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic has been sluggish and uneven for countries such as Tanzania, and a big reason is the uneven access to vaccines.

"The key here is that we ask the advanced world not to forget Sub-Saharan Africa," he said.

"The challenge that we see is that while the advanced economies are recovering relatively faster because they have the vaccines, we don't have the vaccines. The facilities that have been availed to us, they're just too little."

Dr Mpango also called on social media companies to work with countries in Africa to promote the responsible use of social media, so that people would not be swayed by fake news about vaccines.

Acknowledging that there is a sharp divergence in vaccine access, Mr Tharman said that underpinning that is a gulf in trust between the developing and developed world.

He added that trust in multilateral and plurilateral groupings is at an all-time low, particularly pertaining to issues to do with the common good.

The way to address this trust deficit is through more concrete, collaborative ventures to scale up vaccine production and, beyond Covid-19, to tackle pressing problems such as climate change and the growing divide in learning opportunities, Mr Tharman suggested.

PayPal president and chief executive officer Dan Schulman and AZA Finance founder and chief executive officer Elizabeth Rossiello, who were also on the panel, spoke about how technology can help narrow inequalities by improving access to affordable financial services.

Ms Rossiello said, for instance, that her company had helped to process remittances for some of the largest remittance companies in the world, ensuring the flow of this source of funds into the African continent.

Mr Schulman noted that with the world forced to leapfrog into the beginning of the digital era because of the pandemic, many activities and services have moved onto the mobile phone, and this has opened up opportunities for companies to develop payment services that make it easier and less expensive to manage and move money.

"By doing that, (we can) hopefully drive some incremental financial health, which I think is the bedrock of so many things," he added.

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