A discussion with:
Ambassador Armando Varricchio
Ambassador of Italy to the United States
Ambassador Ashok Kumar Mirpuri
Ambassador of the Republic of Singapore to the United States
Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis
European Union Ambassador to the United States
Senior Vice President and Director, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council
As the global community ramps up efforts to counter the rapid spread of the coronavirus, the United States and its allies and partners are taking extraordinary steps to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. As these measures are put into effect, widescale quarantines are disrupting life for millions, the economy is facing its greatest challenge in over a decade, and longstanding geopolitical relationships are in the spotlight. How can the United States and its closest allies work together most effectively to combat this growing crisis? What lessons can we learn from countries at the leading edge of this fight in order to reduce the toll among our citizens and those of our closest friends?
Ambassador Armando Varricchio, Ambassador Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis, and Barry Pavel unpack these questions and discuss the latest on the ground in Europe and Singapore.
Note, this is an automated transcript.
Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Atlantic Council Ambassadors Call – Unity Among Allies in the Fight Against Coronavirus.
Please be aware that each of your lines is now in a listen-only mode. We will open the lines for questions following the speakers’ opening remarks. Please press “star” followed by the number “1” key on your telephone to ask a question. Questions will be taken in order in which they are received. Please be sure to introduce yourself when asking a question.
I will now turn the call over to the Atlantic Council who will introduce the call and begin our discussion. Mr. Pavel, please go ahead.
Barry Pavel: Thank you very much, everyone, for joining us. I’m Barry Pavel the Director of the Atlantic Council Scowcroft Center. It is really my pleasure to welcome our distinguished ambassadors for this first ambassador’s call today, Ambassador Armando Varricchio of Italy, Ambassador Ashok Mirpuri of Singapore, and Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis of the European Union. It’s a real privilege and an honor to have all of you with us here today during what we know as such a busy, such a critical and historic moment for all of us, so thank you.
And I think it’s really a signal of the importance of this issue of our allies and partners that even as our societies are enduring security threats and levels of disruption that we have not seen really since World War II, and as the economy faces its greatest challenge in at least a decade, that we are all here today to discuss how we can deal with this pandemic collectively as long-standing friends who share values and who share interests.
Here at the Atlantic Council, it’s our core conviction that’s driving transatlantic and transpacific alliances and partnerships are absolutely fundamental to our safety, to our security, to our economy and really are the backbone of a resilient rules-based adapting international system. The need for collective closely coordinated action, as we saw last weekend by the central bank, is really essential as we face up to this first wave of the pandemic.
It’s really sad and unfortunate that the number of confirmed cases is ramping up. Just this hour, roughly 236,000 cases globally, almost 10,000 deaths. This is roughly a 4 percent case fatality rate, and very sadly, Italy has now surpassed China’s total death rate. Nations and international organizations are taking seismic steps to slow the spread through a number of measures, which we’ll discuss.
And while continuing the – to save lives is, of course, the first priority, the economic fallout and the measures to contain it threaten a global recession also. Some nations are at the forefront of this global fight, and we are very fortunate to have Ambassadors from two of those countries on the call with us today addressing these kinds of issues.
Singapore certainly has moved swiftly to track and isolate suspected cases, while Italy has also tested for cases aggressively at the highest rate in all of Europe and continuing. The European Union too has taken enormous steps to contain the spread pledging for example €37 billion of financial support to its members and working intensively to prevent the spread from other parts of the world.
If we’re going to flatten the curve now is the time to hear from our allies and partners because this is the type of threat that cannot be effectively countered alone. We really need to apply the lessons being learned right now in Italy and Singapore and the broader E.U. which we can also emulate on the leading edge of this fight.
And also listen to how we can support our closest friends in their hour of need even as our time here in the United States and elsewhere is coming very soon. So, how can we harness the shared knowledge and address these challenges? And that’s why I’m very eager now to introduce our speakers on today’s call all of whom have spent their careers as diplomats striving to find common solutions to common problems. Ambassador Varricchio is a career Italian diplomat who previously helped lead Italy’s work in the G7 and G20 among many other career accomplishments.
Ambassador Mirpuri is a long time Singaporean ambassador to the United States and has worked vigorously to strengthen governmental and societal ties between both of our countries. The ambassador of the European Union Ambassador Lambrinidis is the former Minster of Foreign Affairs and has devoted much of his attention over his career towards developing deeper international cooperation. Thank you all for joining us today for this on the record call. And now, Ambassador Varricchio I would love to turn to you for your perspectives first to kick it off. Thank you, again.
Armando Varricchio: Thank you, all and good afternoon to all our distinguished (inaudible) and friends for listening. You mentioned the (inaudible) today are appalling, more than 3,400 deceased patients. All in all, more than 3,000 Italians deaths did positive. On a positive note, we have 4,400 Italians who finally recovered from the virus.
But I think that it is important that Atlantic Council pay close attention to this. As you said there’s a global threat for (instruments). We have to deal with emergency that I think that is important. As of now, we’ll start thinking in terms of perspective because in a way the future starts now and we all have to understand that a war we will have when the crisis is finally over will be much different than the one we have been experiencing so far.
Speaking about Italy, Italy now is ahead of the curve being the first western democracy fighting the global pandemic but touches as you said all of humanity. And this is why the way we collectively respond (inaudible) reality. And these are test case for the ability for all countries to act together.
But given the orders today, I want to stress upon this crisis test the client bonds. There’s no (inaudible) yesterday to turn to council in Russells (inaudible) discussing this issue and we affirmed the need that we collectively cannot (inaudible) a general response.
In Italy, we made difficult unprecedented and I will say unique (chances) for democracy. And I’m very proud on the fact that my international community, my fellow Italians responded well because we had to take tough and clearly (inaudible) measures never experience before. We are proud of all the doctors, nurses, scientists and first responders.
But first and foremost, I think that what we are experiencing as I was saying will make sure that together Italy and the other countries will do what is necessary today so that this will serve as a testament to our dedication to science and to public health.
To enter into the specifics, I will say that the Italian response has been serious in terms of the way we decided since the beginning to tackle this crisis transparent and I’d like just to stress this point because transparency is absolutely crucial in our democracy. So, this is why we are proud to be providing international scientific immunity with very precious data and to detail and constantly update a picture of the outbreak.
It is also important to (inaudible) any fake news or something that will further deteriorate a situation. For example, products are safe. There is no risk on contagion on our exports. As we are saying, cooperation among all lives importance is key. This has been confirmed also by the WHO and the Center for Disease and Control.
This is absolutely crucial. The Director General (inaudible) confirmed that what we are doing now is a platform for future know how first in Italy but also in Europe. It is important that this year the G7 which is under the U.S. chair devotes some political attention and all determination to promote a global response.
Science is absolutely crucial. In Italy, what we are trying to do, we have involved all our scientific community as a driving force behind the international fight against COVID-19. I’m proud to say that Italian virologists have isolated the virus and DNA sequence. And the (inaudible) will be crucial in understanding and defeating this COVID-19.
Of course we have shared the DNA sequence of the virus with the World Health Organization and we’re working closely with the U.S. authorities and notably the NIH. You mentioned also economic measures since this is creating enormous burden to our economy. The four pillars of our initial and I stress initial €25 billion package to strengthen our care system and support companies, works and families.
The first pillar is the strengthening of national healthcare and (inaudible) protection. As you can imagine, we are very proud of the universal system. We want to preserve it and we want to strengthen.
Second, we want to preserve employment levels because this is another casualty that we have to cope with. Third, pumping liquidity to our businesses and households. And finally, it is very important suspending tax payments and providing tax incentives for workers and businesses.
Last Monday, Italy celebrated in a very somber way our 159th anniversary since unification of Italy. Italy has this unique privilege of being such an old nation but somewhat a recent young state. I have to say that now more than ever it has been important to see our national community, (virtually), in a way, embracing together and make sure we reaffirm the bonds of our community.
This is important because as I was saying, what (inaudible) (in this space) is the way a democracy responds with threats that has hit our nation in the most serious way in this time, (we’ve) never experienced something like that. So it is important we reaffirm (our values) that we of course work together with international community, but also we preserve the nature of a country that has always been open.
(Probably it is true) that this very openness initially has been one of the reasons why the virus has spread so dramatically. But as always, we want to reaffirm what is at stake here, the health of our nation, the health of our citizens, but also the health of our democracy, and this is something that cannot be considered as a future causality.
Our transatlantic bonds are crucial. We discuss (this space) on the fact that (our) nation stand to retrench with the national borders, (this is) a debate that is particularly timely in Europe and I’m sure that my good friend and colleague Stavros Lambrinidis will say something about that. We want to preserve the openness of Europe. We want Europe to remain an area (of the wall) where citizens, companies, businesses, move freely, exchange not just good but ideas, people.
And this has to be preserved. For a moment, when we have to somewhat begin, but this cannot be but temporarily and momentarily. We don’t want this to become the new normal. So what we’re doing this day, the way we respond these days will pave the way for the way our nations will look like in the future. So (inaudible) the one of the Atlantic Council and what the Atlantic Council is doing every day is absolutely crucial. Thank you.
Barry Pavel: Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. The themes you struck of international cooperation, science, transparency, vibrant democracy and transatlantic bonds, are absolutely essential and very meaningful in today’s discussion and certainly formed the bedrock of our collective response.
Let me turn now to hear from Ambassador Mirpuri from Singapore, which also has been at the leading edge, also reflects our common values and has a lot to give to the rest of the world on how they’re working both in Singapore and with other countries. Thank you again, Ambassador Mirpuri.
Ashok Mirpuri: Thank you. Thank you, Barry and I want to thank my colleagues as well for being on this call, given how important this issue is, despite the fact that all of us are so busy with a number of things. It’s significant that we want to speak about global cooperation, and this global cooperation comes really under U.S. leadership, the sort of leadership that we want the U.S. to exercise in terms of a global pandemic.
And I also want to express my condolences to all those who have lost family in this pandemic, in China, Italy and all the countries around the world, and those who are being impacted deeply by this pandemic and what we expect will be a fairly long term significant issue. It will be the issue will dominate our discussions, I would expect for the rest of this year and into next year at minimum because of the health implications as well as the economic implications.
Now I’ve been asked many times about Singapore’s situation. We have about 345 cases of people who got the coronavirus. It may seem small, but in a population of 5.5 million, it is very significant for us. We have 100 – 221 still with the virus, 15 in critical care, but it is important that – to recognize that Singapore was one of the first waves of countries that got the virus. In late January, we had a large number of imported cases coming in from around the world, and we had to put in place travel restrictions for a number of people.
So the first priority was really dealing with imported cases, reducing these cases, putting in place travel restrictions, having temperature and health screenings and notwithstanding that, we are starting to see a second wave of cases, and I would anticipate that as other countries start dealing with this issue, we’re flattening the curve, that they will – we will see waves and waves of this virus coming in as people return from around the world. I understand the State Department is planning to recall all Americans from around the world to come back home.
There may be another significant rise over here. Singapore, we’ve got our students to start coming back, and we’re starting to see a second wave of people – second wave of cases coming in. So it’s really managing imported cases as people come in. The first thing we do as you do come in, obviously, the temperature and health screenings, and we give everyone landing in Singapore a 14 day stay at home notice.
This is to minimize their transmission within the community, and that’s really the next phase of what we are looking at is minimizing that risk of transmission. It’s dealing with contact (crisis), for any confirmed cases, a very long established process of trying to see where these people may have been to over the past 10 to 14 days, speaking to them, looking at their diaries, trying to understand where they may potentially have been.
Obviously quarantining people, and setting up public health preparedness clinics which are activated at the ground level for people with respiratory symptoms to go to, to instigate, to have treatment for these issues before they are actually tested for the coronavirus.
The third step – and that – many countries are starting to do now is social distancing, keeping the community safe, asking people with higher risk of getting COVID-19, to avoid public places, taking precautions to reduce large scale events, public venues and making sure that we avoid many of these (things), while doing this in a fashion that at least you can keep, because of the number of cases we’ve had to try and keep business moving forward. So schools remain open, but they’ve avoided interschool activities and external activities.
They’ve limited the number of visitors coming in, they’ve reduces large-scale gatherings, but while keeping business going due to social distancing. And the fourth one, I think is more important and I (inaudible) is social responsibility. We want to do this collectively, we want to be transparent, obviously to practice the good hygiene, but also try to avoid spreading fake news. WhatsApp groups are all over, sort of coming out and putting lots of information out. We have created a government WhatsApp group where people can get information as well directly from the government of what is happening.
Now let me touch briefly on the economic aspects of this because I think this will be the one that we will have to live with even as we manage the health considerations. We see it here in the U.S., but every country is starting to deal with this, the Singapore economy has taken a big hit. We’ve put in place support and stabilization packages to tide people over in the short term. But as things start to unfold, we’ll have to do more.
We’ll have to look at additional measures and it’s really, how do we maintain this sort of global trade and commerce even as we are dealing with the health crisis, because as countries start putting in place travel restrictions, they’re also starting to think about putting in place export restrictions, impacting global supply chains and trade routes, and for a small country like Singapore, its important that we try and keep these supply chains open, try and keep these export measures at bay, in order to continue doing as much as we can together.
And in this, we have to work with other countries as well, how we manage that. The third area – again I think all countries are trying to do this, it’s really social and psychological resilience. You see the sense of doom that everyone starts to feel, how you maintain that resilience, how do you constantly thank people who are working on the frontlines, the healthcare workers, immigration officers, public servants, even people who are driving sick patients to hospitals, cleaning staff.
We need to make sure that we understand and respect these people and make sure that we try and keep a resilience in (the) society, keep families safe. So really, these are the kind of measures that we’re looking at in Singapore, and we look forward to the questions that may come up (after this). Thank you, Barry.
Barry Pavel: Thank you very much, Ambassador Mirpuri, all very helpful comments and certainly a lot of lessons that we can all continue to learn. And now I would love to turn to European Union Ambassador Lambrinidis. Ambassador, thank you for joining.
Stavros Lambrinidis: Thank you very much for having me and greetings also to my distinguished colleagues. The first message that I want to send is that indeed, this is the time to follow science and to follow it vigorously and to avoid misinformation or disinformation. I am talking to you from home, the European Union embassy decided to move to teleworking. Only essential staff are on our embassy.
I switched with deputy chief of (admission), our presence there and the vast majority of our staff are working from home. And let me tell you that (inaudible) we reduced diplomatic handshakes as it were. We’re in full diplomatic gear when it comes to our work because of the dedication of all this amazing staff that we have, and I’m sure that’s the case for everyone else on this call.
Testing is hugely important, we have found this in Europe. Not only do you identify people who have the virus as soon as possible and be able to contain them, but also you see where the virus (attempts) to spread towards, and then you can plan your healthcare systems to better be able to carry the huge burden that this virus is creating. Social distancing as the Singapore ambassador mentioned as well.
A second point that I want to make is that, indeed, we at the European Union are placing tremendous emphases on ensuring that this crisis retains European solidarity and unity, in fact strengthens it, highlights it and protects the single market, perhaps the single largest achievement of European integration. No borders in the E.U. for the free moment of citizens, goods, services, capital to more than a 450 million of citizens in the world, which is what the E.U. is.
And this is why we have kicked into high gear. The – on Tuesday, the heads of state and government of Europe met again. They approved a large number of common measures to protect our health, promote our research, research we can share with the rest of the world as the Italian Ambassador mentioned, to find a vaccine, to identify the virus, to deal with the consequences, support our citizens, support our workers, support our economies.
First thing that we did is that we have imposed a temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the European Union. The exceptions, of course, do apply, but we have found that traveling less certainly can contain the rapid spread of the virus. It’s not a silver bullet by any means, but it’s important to achieve and this is temporary.
We’ve also emphasized, at the same time, measures to ensure that our internal borders can as soon as possible open up again fully, and certainly in the context of this transition to the full opening up, ensure that we can have green lanes, fast lanes to ensure that European citizens can travel to their countries from another European country and to ensure that goods and fundamental services, medical services, medicine, other things like that can go through.
A second thing that we’ve done is that we’ve pulled together our collective power to procure medical equipment and to provide them to our citizens in the best way possible. We are collectively as European Union now procuring everything from respirators to masks to gowns to gloves to everything else that is deemed to be extremely important.
A third thing we’ve done is that we are pumping in money, European money to research, to the stunningly innovating European companies, medical companies, big and small ones who are right now working and should be working or will be working even harder to find vaccines and find solutions to this, as I said, for the rest of the world as well. We are (fortly) attacking the economic consequences. I think that both previous speakers indicated, and very correctly so, that this is going to be painful, long lasting in the United States, in Europe, in other parts of the world.
There’s no question that there will be recessionary pressures and very serious ones. And this is why we also should be ensuring that we do not shut ourselves in our shells but we protect the open globalized economic interconnectivity that we have because it is the best thing that we have going for us. We are so connected today that there can be a huge domino effect if anyone of us experiences a very, very large recession. That will have spillover effects on everyone else and that is why we have to keep working together on this and avoid the temptation of decoupling and like I said getting back into our (shells).
We are giving also fundamentally the fifth point of the decision of head of states in government immediate relaxation of European Union internal market rules when it comes to the debt and deficit ceilings that member states can have when it comes to state aid that they normally cannot give to companies. We are relaxing all these and already every member state is using them. Italy’s a very clear example as the Ambassador mentioned before, to ensure that we can allow for money to be pumped in to create liquidity to support employment and do all these things.
And of course we do follow European citizens around the world and at this stage in different parts of the world their state and trying to ensure that they get back home safely. If I may say now, in addition to dealing with internal market, the Transatlantic (inaudible) is supremely important to us in these days.
We want to be able to we’re working together we have to. We are at the cutting edge of research of economic development together Europeans and Americans and it is supremely important that we coordinate. And I’m glad to say that already there are a number of phone calls, many of them, bilateral but also in the context of the G7, there’s going to be also G20 Foreign Ministers discussion next week, I believe.
Everything that we can do, Americans and Europeans together to fight this scourge is going to be frankly life saving for us and for the rest of the world, I hope. Now, let us also not forget the importance of taking care of the most vulnerable. Many people mentioned before values and democracy and I fully agree and this is in fact fundamentally what we have to be focusing on as well.
Keep in mind that in places where the health systems are not that good or that advanced or where health is supremely expensive there can be a huge disincentive for people, especially poorer people from coming out and indicating that they feel bad, because of the fear of how they will be taken care of.
We have to make sure in our policies that we minimize those risks and that we take care of these people. Blue collar workers around the world cannot telework as easily as others can and the effects on them of this crisis can be even harder. So, we should be focusing on dealing with those as well. It is the strength of our democracies indeed as the Italian Ambassador mentioned also at stake here.
And so as my last point in these opening remarks, let me say that I will dedicate myself and my work here in this country and Europe will around the world in ensuring that we can go through this crisis based on science and protecting at the same time the values and rights of every citizen.
Barry Pavel: Thank you, very much. Mr. Ambassador very important themes and measures that you’ve struck, I think because of where we are in the hour I would like to ask the operator to open the line for questions. I’ll still ask one or two but want to make sure that we also get some questions from participants.
Operator: Thank you. Just a reminder to ask a question you will need to press “star” “1” on your telephone. To withdrawal your question, press the “pound” key. Again to ask a question press “star” “1” on your telephone.
Barry Pavel: Thank you, very much. I think a (general) question that just strikes me as crying out is there a prospect for multilateral action perhaps, the G20 which Mr. Ambassador just mentioned? We had a pretty effective actions during the financial crisis and is there a prospect for G20 action at this time that could really surmount any barriers to international cooperation and help save lives and slow the spread?
Stavros Lambrinidis: Well, I would hope so, this is the European Ambassador speaking, I would hope so and I know that G20 will be discussing this issue, as I said next week as well. So G7, G20 every multilateral forum that we have has to be utilized and we have to try to keep unity here. I am concerned that politics in times of crisis can always come in and creep in and play a role. And sometimes that role is not always the best one in terms of ensuring that we can bring our best minds, our best scientists, our best practices together to fight this and our best instincts of solidarity
We certainly have a lot to be concerned about around the world that will not disappear because of the crisis and will probably come back after it. But at this stage I would hope that we can all join hands and work together instead of pointing finger, which his always as I said sometimes a bad (inaudible).
Ashok Mirpuri: This is Ashok Mirpuri, the Singapore Ambassador, in (inaudible) we are working together at health officials and other officials but I think it’s important that we use established mechanisms like the G7, the G20 even the WHO where there are already established patterns of cooperation, in order – where there is trust in order to work together. I think that maybe a lack of trust in some areas and that’s creating some of the difficulties of how do we organize it for the future. But region organizations are trying their best where we look at a global (frame up) in which we can do many of these things. Thank you.
Armando Varricchio: The Italian Ambassador here, on a personal note, you know I’ve been for G7 for six summits, three times as the (inaudible) and three in my national capacity and three times the G20. And I do recall the G20 was actually a (launch) in the aftermath of the first financial crisis of 2008/2009. It’s a sort of fire squad that might build up the international governors and so coming up with a collective answer to a collective crisis.
This year it is important that both bodies – the G7 which is a restricted one and the G20 try to – not to lose that momentum because we do want, as my two colleagues were pointing out, that the international governance might (exit) the crisis stronger rather than weaker, this is absolutely critical, we don’t want anybody having anything (inaudible) (to come up with reshaping) of international order that might reduce need to working together.
I think that global pandemics like this one really cross (any) border, so we don’t want that – artificial borders might hamper the opportunity and the possibility to working together. Italy would certainly work on this as member of two bodies, and next year be the chair of the G20 for 2021.
Barry Pavel: Thank you very much, those are extremely important points. And before the Operator turns to the first audience question, I mean the rate of spread of this – even during this call we have had almost 2,000 more cases and 20 more deaths globally just since the beginning of this phone call. Very sad, urgent and crisis action.
Operator, can you please introduce the next audience question?
Operator: Our first question comes from the line of (Joe Girk), your line is open.
(Joe Girk): Hello, thank you for doing this. I have two questions – one, the first preferably for the Italian ambassador, and then the other more generally. One, I wondered if you have a sense of why this outbreak hit Italy the hardest? Is there any relationship perhaps between this outbreak and traffic related to the belt and road initiative, or do you think it’s some other factor?
And then more generally, I wonder how (are our) western officials thinking about how – forgive me if this is a little big of a clunky question, but how to optimize going forward? What are the takeaway lessons from this crisis? I – the WHO mentioned that hospitals are organized around efficiency but they’re not prepared for a crisis. We’ve had supply chain issues with hospital masks.
There is going to need to be some broader thinking about how companies organize themselves, where they get their supplies, how they plan for crisis going forward.
Armando Varricchio: Yes, the Italian Ambassador here. On the first question, I’m no medical doctor, and certainly I think that it is now too soon to go to the (route) causes that eventually created the conditions for the initial spreading of the virus.
What we do know is that at the beginning we had a couple of clusters that initiated the spreading in to Italian regions – one in Lombardy and the other one in the (Venetian) area. And from there the virus eventually spread elsewhere – even these two regions, particularly Lombardy, still are very much effected.
We will have to see – we’ll have to trace the origins from where the virus originated and was brought in Italy. You know, Italy’s an open country both in terms of movement of people, movement of goods, supply chain – very – is international by definition.
So there are so many opportunities, there are so many (ways) that – from where the virus might have reached Italy. There are news that the first patient originally came from Germany, for example. And from there, you know, the virus might have spread.
You know, it’s too soon. But I think that first not just for political economic reasons, but first and foremost to do the – to take the appropriate measures to avoid future events it is important that when the crisis is over to collect all the information data so that it will be possible to trace the origins of this virus that I think is effecting and hitting my country so heavily.
Barry Pavel: (Inaudible).
Ashok Mirpuri: This is Ashok Mirpuri, the Singapore Ambassador on the second question. I think it is too early to say what comes next, but definitely we have to rethink the global agenda. We have been too focused on some of the different areas. There will always been new pandemics coming after this, the issue of climate change is a very important thing.
And then, when you rethink the global agenda you need to think of what mechanisms do you have in place? And in a way some of our establishment mechanisms have not been functioning well enough in order to deal with this.
Some of them there’s a lack of trust in some of these mechanisms. So you need to rethink the agenda, and you need the right mechanisms, but it’s too early to think about these issues now as we deal with the health and economic crisis.
Stavros Lambrinidis: And if I may jump in also, the European Ambassador, for the last question – I would focus on three challenges ahead of us as this question is over. The first one focuses on the economy – the world economy and trade. I think we will be challenged because of what is happening now, our companies may be challenged, those who are in China, those who are elsewhere, those who are dealing with big supply chains – to consider the cost of this and some of them will be thinking about decoupling.
If there is political rhetoric also pushing that trend then there is a danger, a real one that in the medium to long-term (if) this gets promoted we will be a much less efficient world economy which means that our own domestic economies would also be much weaker, and GDP will be lower.
A second challenge is the environment. Climate change is a real and present threat, it is effecting our lives. In the next few years it will be effecting them dramatically to the worst, in ways that I hope do not resemble the panic that is created now by coronavirus, but I would not exclude it unless we stay focused to address this world scourge.
And this requires a tremendous amount of investment, a tremendous amount of political commitment, and I do see the possibility that as we try to recover from the hit of the coronavirus, (there) will be less immediate funds available to be able to invest in what we must invest in to reverse climate change and to protect the environment. So this is something I think that will be a challenge.
And then a challenge – perhaps an opportunity is to focus on what is coming up next, the digital revolution – artificial intelligence, all those things. And to see how we can harness their power for the good, again, through setting democratic standards in their use. But to ensure that maybe we can find ways that they can predict and help us contain such viruses in the future.
Barry Pavel: I think those are all excellent points, and we saw some reporting this morning that the – some scientists are leveraging super computers to try to find the most effective antiviral for dealing with the current outbreak.
Next audience question, please?
Operator: Thank you. Just a reminder to ask a question you will need to press “star” “1” on your telephone. Our next question comes from the line of Amanda Macias of CNBC, your line is open.
Amanda Macias: Thank you so much. My questions is, if you could give us a little bit more insight in to what specific industries have been hit the hardest in your perspective countries? And my follow-up would be, what advice as you’re watching the news unfold in the United States, do you have to the U.S. administration?
Armando Varricchio: If I may, the Italian Ambassador here. You know, unfortunately it is across the board. I know that the most visible one, thinking from abroad about Italy is the tourism sector. We see this very, very (rare) images of the Italian cities completely empty – you know, empty shops, restaurants – all our (inaudible) now starting to see some completely void of tourists.
That’s – Italy first and foremost is an industry country, we have a strong industrial base, we have a great manufacturing industry. And this has been a dramatically hit, and given it was national supply chain, this is effecting now all of the industrial production in Europe from the automotive sector, to energy production, to robotics and others.
So there will be the need to immediately come to the rescue both of individuals as my European colleague was reminding, we have to make sure that blue collars and people working in service sectors can receive some initial support. But also thinking in terms of perspective to make sure that (when the condition) of their industry might start operating again.
Of course, I don’t want to give (any) advice, what I can only say is that what we are experiencing is a fair bet the U.S. is somewhat following the same trajectory. So it is important to do some lesson learning from the countries that have been hit first, including Italy.
So the more we are able to limit the spreading of the virus, the more also we are able to cope with the economic consequences that might – which might be very, very painful.
Stavros Lambrinidis: This the E.U. Ambassador. The – I would say – I echo what my friend Armando Varricchio has just said. I would add that in Europe, the airline industry is very severely hit, in addition to tourism.
And, of course, throughout the world we have to deal the consequences on education for this, including for young kids. For many of whom, I have to say, very interesting, this is perhaps the first real experience with a life threatening crisis for their loved ones, their relatives. They have not been through wars like many of the older generations have.
And it’s very interesting to see them adjust, especially now as universities around the globe and in the United States are closing massively, people are going home, so these are very interesting consequences.
I would focus on the young generation and on the lessons that they learn and they take from this, including on the feeling of caring about the person to them, solidarity, all these things, that sometimes through a crisis you could say that it could work as a silver lining.
To the United States, like Armando would not give any advice, I fully agree, the U.S. is some days or weeks behind the curve. It will be experiencing, perhaps, I hope, much fewer consequences than the one – that has been experienced in other countries, but chances are that as more testing happens, more cases will be revealed. That is – it appears bad, it’s a good thing that the testing can also result in immediate mitigation measures and preventive measures.
But, I would say this is the unique opportunity to work more closely with allies, including those who have already experienced this at a more advanced stage. And also, this is a unique opportunity for the United States, as well, to really to quarterback the global response, to play a leadership role, to give the message both in practice, but also in spirit of solidarity with the rest of the world. This is what Europeans and Americans should be doing together, and Singaporeans and everyone else who is in this together. And if we manage to achieve that I am hopeful.
This is Ashok Mirpuri of Singapore Ambassador, like my colleagues, it is – the first hit has been the hospitality sector, hotels, aviation, people working in (gig) economy, but you – no one has been spared. And again, in the end, we still look at the world’s largest, what happens in the U.S., consumer spending falls, so over production falls over here, all our supply chains are going to impacted.
So, I think it’s very early days. We will see this play out for an extended period. The economic impacts will be over a long-term and we just have to prepare for this while anticipating that (inaudible) of the sector is going to feel the pain. Thank you.
Barry Pavel: Thank you very much. We can go to the next question.
Operator: Thank you. Again, to ask a question, you will need to press “star” “1” on your telephone. Our next question comes from the line of (Elaine Surall) of UACU in Ukraine. Your line’s open.
(Elaine Surall): Hello. Thank you Ambassadors for this wonderful presentation and for the Atlantic Council for arranging it.
My question has to do with the future. Looking at what we’re dealing with now, looking at the dynamics of the coronavirus and how it has progressed through temperate zones around the road, as it’s been mapped by the World Health Organization and the CDC, are we looking at, in terms of climate change, as one of the Ambassadors – I’m sorry, which one – I forgot which one of you made the mention, of climate change playing a significant role in the past viruses ebb and flow based on the cold weather, they expanded, hot weather they receded.
Now we’re seeing a – maybe a totally, quote, different animal. Are we – is the coronavirus really the canary in the mine, where it’s alerting us to the problems that will come in the future, where we’ll have more and more of the same, different versions of the coronavirus.
We’ve got COVID-19 now, what will COVID-20, 21, 23 be like? Are we going to be living in this perpetual stage of siege? Thank you.
Ashok Mirpuri: Well, this Ashok Mirpuri, the Singapore Ambassador. I will wait for the scientists to do the connection between climate change and the current pandemic. But Singapore is a hot tropical country and we have been hit by the coronavirus.
So, I’m not sure about the linkage of whether temperate versus tropical, what it means, but I’ll really wait for the scientists to put this together after we get over the current problems. Thank you.
Stavros Lambrinidis: I agree with the Ambassador. I’m sorry, go ahead. Armando, go ahead.
Armando Varricchio: No, no. Go ahead Stavros.
Stavros Lambrinidis: No, I just say, I agree with the Ambassador of Singapore. The – we’ll also wait for the scientists to put all the information together. But, as I said before, whatever the connection between climate change and the spreading of different virus may be, climate change in itself is the biggest challenge facing world in the next decades.
And also, frankly, given the huge economic impact of this crisis, now the coronavirus, addressing the affects of climate change could be the biggest and most effective growth strategies that we could all have to promote our economic development, because of the innovation of both and addressing the problems, all this has spill over affects on epidemiology as well. So, I would hope that can keep our eyes on the prize, as it were, at the same time that we are addressing effectively the present crisis.
Armando Varricchio: Thank you. (Inaudible) Ambassador here. I would think you to an old Latin saying, (foreign language), the first priority is to live. And the reason why I’m quoting this, is because that I wish that when we have to face immediate need, immediate crisis, we run risk of setting aside broader issues. That would be a major mistake.
I think that global issues like climate change, that these days do not seem to be considered a priority because of our immediate needs that have to be taken care of, had to remain on top of the agenda.
What is going on these days show even more that connection globalization interconnectivity have to be considered opportunities, but the same time have to be dealt with on a collective scale.
This mass of areas, like for example both China, Italy, are the major areas heavily with a drastic reduction in (pollution) seems somewhat reassuring that the moment we resume our level of production, those levels will be back to the so-called, new normal. So, it is absolutely important that we do not detract from a strong international cooperation to tack on the root causes of the global inequalities and the global threats.
By the way, an issue that these days occurs, is not in the front pages of our newspapers or other different media outlets, which is migration, for example. We do know that one of them most important root causes of migration, if not the most important, is climate change.
So, it is absolutely important that we try to keep all together and those who have the responsibility exert leadership, both in terms of political leadership, economic leadership, but also (bandits), scholars, those who have the privilege to give a look to the big picture, do not change their priorities. Because the priorities we had a month ago have to remain the same these days.
Barry Pavel: Thank you all.
(Elaine Surall): Thank you.
Barry Pavel: All three of you. Thank you, all three of you for just an amazing call. I feel better in this time of crisis, that you, our Ambassadors, working closely with our country and with all the other countries.
A crisis like this, of such historic proportion, you really have to fall back on your values on your long-standing relationships among the societies, among the government. And this really the time for unity, even as we are temporarily restricting global flows, this is the time to really lean on the global connections that we have among our values and our people.
So, unity in practice, and unity in spirit both. Thank you so much, all of you, for joining us today. And we’ll end our call now. Please stay tuned for another Ambassadors call, with different Ambassadors, at the Atlantic Council on Monday, this coming Monday, from the Adrienne Arsht Latin American Center. Thank you very much.
Operator: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today’s conference call. Thank you for your participating. You may now disconnect.