Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic is the worst health, social, political and economic crisis that my generation, the NAFTA generation has ever seen. It can probably only be compared to those that lived through the post-World War II era.
Before this disruptive event, we had lived through some difficult situations like the Mexican economic crisis of December 1994, the tragic events of 9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008. All of them of significant, in some cases devastating, effects for many people and for the economy. However, I think we can all agree, this is far bigger in terms of human life, economic impact, social unrest and worldwide uncertainty.
I have no doubt, that as 9/11 changed the way we travel at a global scale, COVID-19 will change many aspects of the way we live for the next 20 years. This pandemic is also teaching us some extremely valuable lessons that I hope we come to embrace.
The first lesson that we should understand is that we are in fact a global economy and a global community. What happens in one side of the world impacts almost immediately the other side. A virus that began in China had an impact all over the world. It affected trade, global supply chains, as well as the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.
We should avoid the trap that was already part of the rhetoric of many populist leaders that say the solution to evade this “reality” is closing our borders and limiting the relationship with the rest of the world. I am not talking about the immediate measures that have to be implemented to control the outbreak of coronavirus, those are, of course necessary at this moment.
My point is that we must understand that it is a fact of life and nature that we are connected. We should double down on our efforts to build policy and institutions that allow us to work with each other, trade with each other, help each other. For the last few years we seem to be heading in the opposite direction locally, regionally and globally. COVID-19 is teaching us, that we are one community. We should behave like such, it is in the best interest of all of us. This is especially true among next door neighbors where this interdependence is even more obvious, as is the case of North America.
This brings me to the second lesson and one of my biggest disappointments during these difficult months: the tremendous lack of coordination among countries and their political leaders, or at least is seems so to the general public. It astonishes me that we have not seen a videoconference of the heads of the health departments of the US, Canada and Mexico. Nor have we seen a similar effort of all the presidents and prime ministers of the EU, South America or the Asia Pacific. In my country, Mexico, there hasn’t been of a press conference between the president and all the governors in which they communicate to 130 million Mexicans a coordinated federal plan and convey a feeling of mutual trust. This critique also goes to the President of the United States and the American governors. Instead, what we have been left with is hundreds of daily press conferences, decrees, letters, communications; each one with a different twist, different data and different strategies.
COVID-19 has shown us that we are one community. We need a coordinated group of world leaders that understand it and behave accordingly. We can take this opportunity to learn from this difficult experience and come out the other side of the tunnel more prepared to recover from the imminent impact this will cause at all levels of society, and especially among those more vulnerable.
There could be a bright future ahead of us. It’s up to us, mainly up to those of us that play some kind of leadership role, to make sure it becomes a reality. The path is clear: working together for a greater collective good, let’s get to work.
* Emilio Cadena is CEO of Prodensa and Chairman of The US-Mexico Foundation. The US-Mexico Foundation is a binational non-profit organization dedicated to fostering bilateral cooperation and improving the understanding between the United States and Mexico by activating key people in the relationship that once were dormant. Twitter: @usmexicofound