An estimated 2.6 billion people – one-third of the world’s population – continue to live under some form of quarantine conditions. These are trying circumstances for individuals and businesses. From a consumer demand perspective, the longer we all engage in some form of quarantine or social isolation, the more likely our new habits will take hold.
The emergence of this “homebody economy” is becoming apparent in consumer spending. Only China seems to be rebounding in consumer spending – the rest of us are still cutting back on discretionary spending. We are focused on essentials, being cost conscious and cutting back on services and travel. We are even spending less on apparel and footwear, which impacts millions of jobs worldwide as workers in global value chains face uncertainty in their employment.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 93 per cent of the world’s workers live in countries experiencing workplace closures due to COVID-19. ILO estimated the reduction in working-hours for the second quarter of 2020 as equivalent to the loss of 400 million full-time jobs. Job losses, reduced hours and foregone income are having a clear dampening effect on spending habits and demand in international trade, which in turn creates more job insecurity.
In most countries, the vast majority of people have turned to e-commerce and other digital or contactless services such as curbside pickup and drive-throughs. Many consumers are likely to delay resuming “normal” shopping and other behaviors until after a vaccine is widely available. That includes, unfortunately, the resumption of preventative healthcare. The hidden health impacts of foregoing routine health screenings and other interventions will be felt in national economies for years to come.
On top of all this, we know that the impacts of recession – layoffs, loss of income and the growing effects of income equality are closely correlated with reduced health outcomes and life expectancy. The World Health Organization has cautioned about the long-term consequences of lockdowns and isolation on mental and physical health, noting that depression and anxiety under normal circumstances cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
No doubt we’re all feeling some level of anxiety, mood swings, and changes in sleep patterns. McKinsey’s consumer sentiment survey shows, in another twist of cruel circularity, that people are spending more time inactively, consuming digital content, which could have negative implications for people’s happiness.
Trade Antidote for the Irritable, Anxious and Exhausted Among Us
Lest we leave you further depressed, might trade in some goods and services provide a much-needed antidote to the mental and physical wear and tear of COVID-19? We think so. Here are some ideas.
Yoga – Global demand for PVC has been hit hard with a major drop in demand in China. So, why not do your small part by buying yourself a fresh, new vinyl mat. The PVC-based mats are cushy, which might be nice for your next savasana. If you’ve gained a little weight during the lockdown, you can rely on American textile engineers – the same ones medical personnel turn to for durable emergency wear – to also deliver yoga pants that will hold your belly in place as you stretch in downward dog.
Guided Meditation – Evidence of meditation practice dates back to approximately 1500 years BCE, but we generally thank Chinese Taoists and Indian Buddhists from the 6th to 4th centuries BCE for developing forms of practice that spread throughout the world. These days, Andy Puddicome, a Brit who studied meditation in the Himalayas and became ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India, can be credited for making meditation accessible, modern – and available online – for the masses through his app, Headspace. Through Headspace and others, you can have guided meditation through an app on your phone, a service traded across borders thanks to the Internet.
Incense – The use of incense can be traced back to ancient Egypt where it was used by priests for fumigating ceremonies and tombs. It was thought to hinder the presence of demons and served as an offering to their gods during worship and ritual, which is how incense came to be used in India and throughout southern Asia and China. Resin-based incense such as frankincense traveled to Europe and the Mediterranean along a trading route known as the Incense Route. Today, you can buy very high end and exotic incense like the brand, Astier de Villatte, which is handmade on the Japanese island of Awaji by masters of aroma who have been honing their craft and handing it down for hundreds of years. Also popular is incense made from palo santo (which means holy wood), a tree that grows along the coast of South America.
A Cleanse – If you’ve tried any form of keto, paleo or cleanse diet these days, chances are you had to look online to find far-flung ingredients from around the world. Popular ingredients include Maca powder derived from root vegetables grown in the Andes mountains in Peru, carob, which is native to the eastern Mediterranean region, and the Schisandra berry, which comes from mountainous regions throughout China. Another exotic ingredient is moringa, a nutrient-rich plant derived from “the miracle tree” native to North India. If your diet has you cutting back on caffeine, you can also try teas that taste like coffee, such as from Teecino. Their herbal teas use herbs and nuts like ramón seeds harvested in rural communities in Guatemala through programs that support educational and nutritional programs for women and children in Central America.
The Struggle is Real, Trade Can Help
The WTO issued a news release in June that estimated an 18.5 percent decline in merchandise trade in the second quarter of 2020 as compared to the same period last year. By any measure, the impact on trade, on livelihoods, and on our well-being has been profoundly negative. But as we work toward collective resilience, one thing you can do is to work on being healthy at home. And, with all of the products and services available to us through trade, we have lots of ways to do just that.
Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught international trade policy and negotiations for the last fifteen years as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.