Former Prime Minister of Australia

Former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd says the lack of economic coordination among key nations and the “slowness” of international institutions like the World Health Organization will hinder the global economic recovery. 

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Rudd said failure to craft a timely and collective response to the coronavirus pandemic has led to an “avoidable” crisis.

“It’s very easy in this blame game of national and global politics to say it’s his fault or her fault. But the truth is … responsibility for this hangs at multiple levels, from an early failure to notify to the WHO from the Chinese provincial authorities in Wuhan and in Hubei through to the qualified earlier notifications by the WHO to the rest of the global community, through to the slowness of let’s call it the non-China world to wake up to say, ‘Hey, this is a problem for the world, not just for China,” Rudd said.

Now the president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, Rudd is part of a growing group of former leaders during the 2008 financial crisis calling for multilateral institutions to step up in the face of protectionist and unilateral policy steps taken by the world’s two largest economies.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd launched the latest Quarterly Essay ‘Red Flag, Waking Up To China’s Challenges’ by Peter Hartcher. (Photo by Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

Recent reports suggest a concerted effort by Beijing to downplay the severity of the virus in the initial weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in China. Back in February, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Yahoo Finance Beijing rebuffed U.S. offers to send CDC experts to help respond to the health crisis.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has banned all travel from China and Europe as the virus spreads globally, prompting EU leaders to issue a collective statement calling on Washington for “cooperation rather than unilateral action.” This week, Trump announced he would halt all Green Card issuances and severely limit immigration to “protect the jobs of our great American citizens.”

Last week, the president ordered the U.S. to halt funding to the WHO, pending Washington’s review of the group’s role  “in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”

Rudd said U.S. leadership, or the lack of it, is partly responsible for the absence of an “effective, globally coordinated response.”

“The big lag in time from January through March in convening a G20 summit was frankly, a major missed opportunity,” he said. “In the end, it took the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to convene and not the United States to convene an emergency gathering, even though the G20 was an American creation.”

Business and border closures prompted by the coronavirus outbreak have sent economies into a tailspin around the world. In its most recent economic outlook, the IMF projected the pandemic would likely push global economy into its worst recession since the Great Depression, contracting by 3 percent in 2020.

The scope of the dueling health and economic crisis has only elevated the urgency for coordination.

In a letter addressed to G20 governments earlier this month, Rudd joined a long list of former leaders including Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in calling for urgent action on the medical and economic front. Specifically, the plan called for countries to commit $8 billion to fill the most “urgent gaps” in the COVID-19 response, including additional funding for the WHO, and financial support for therapeutics. 

On the economic front, leaders urged increased coordination for fiscal, monetary, central bank, and anti-protectionist initiatives. They also called for debt repayment to be waived for the poorest countries, to give nations the “fiscal space” to tackle the health crisis.

“The long tale of the last crisis and the slow recovery, particularly in Europe last time around, I think, is a salutary reminder that as recovery unfolds, when it unfolds, it will be uneven globally,” Rudd said.

Separately, Rudd has pushed for “constructive powers” in the G20 to advocate for and reform institutions of global governance, including the WHO, the WTO, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, given the impact the economic downturn is likely to have on the most vulnerable nations and people. In an op-ed published in The Economist, Rudd singled out Germany, France, the European Union, Japan, Canada, and Britain, as countries like to fill the funding gap left by Trump’s “lunatic decision” to withdraw money from the WHO.

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita

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