ISET hosts online discussion with Georgian government & World Bank representatives
Tuesday, 21 April, 2020

Although the operations of many businesses and organizations have been brought to a crashing halt due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, ISET has refused to allow the crisis to hinder its work. Over the last few months, all teaching and academic activity have been shifted online using Zoom, a format that works equally well for operations of ISET Policy Institute and its efforts to serve as a knowledge accumulation and exchange platform in the lock-down. The online high-level Policy Panel Discussion on April 21 on 'Perspectives of Post-COVID-19 Recovery: Views from the World Regions' well served this objective.

Hosted by ISET Director Tamar Sulukhia, the high-level panel was composed of Arup Banerji, World Bank Director for the European Union; Martin Raiser, World Bank Director for China, Mongolia, and Korea; and Natia Turnava, Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia.

The initial discussion centered on how countries can strike an effective balance between protecting the health of their citizens while minimizing damage to their economies. Martin Raiser pointed out that almost every country in the world has given healthcare priority and those that have not have had to change course quite quickly. Mr. Raiser highlighted that the standard response has been to protect workers rather than jobs and firms, but if companies are not protected then those whose health they are trying to protect may be left unemployed. He conceded that this would not be possible for every country; only the wealthiest economies will be able to support such mass public aid projects, and poorer countries will have difficult choices to make.

Arup Banerji, meanwhile, drew attention to the risk of a secondary outbreak, mentioning the historical precedent of the Spanish Flu a century ago. He then raised the issue of globalization, and how developing and emerging economies – which are often dependent on trade with foreign partners – will struggle more than their counterparts who enjoy greater domestic economic power.

Both of the participating regional World Bank Directors addressed the fact that the pandemic may have permanently changed the global economy, and the societal changes – even in small ways – can be expected, such as future preferences for home entertainment, or food deliveries over restaurants. This could cause the death of some industries and businesses while allowing others to rise; a not-unheard-of occurrence in previous times of substantial economic and social evolution.

Minister Turnava explained the Georgian government's plans to address the economic impacts of the pandemic, including state support for SMEs and agricultural businesses, and many other measures to help businesses and individuals to cope with the impacts of the pandemic. Minister announced that, while some 23there will be a focus on attracting foreign capital the government plans to create support schemes for business relocations to Georgia. The tourism sector is another concern since the service industry is a significant component of the Georgian economy. However, as Minister Turnava stated, 18,000 businesses and 50,000 individuals will be eligible for government aid.

All of the panelists agreed that the principal point of concern is that the duration of the crisis and its continued spread cannot be accurately predicted. However, as Minister Turnava said, the Georgian economy has bounced back from crises before and has proven itself resilient to a number of external shocks. The panel also discussed the effective strategies of randomized testing and containment being employed by countries such as China, Germany, New Zealand, and Korea, and how many firms and organizations are finding ways to efficiently work around the current difficulties they face. ISET itself is proof of this latter fact, as the discussion was watched by almost five hundred viewers and was followed by an interactive Q&A session.

The institute is very grateful to the participants for joining the discussion and offering their insights; more panel talks are planned for the near future as the ongoing crisis unfolds.

The full record of the discussion can be found on our YouTube Channel.