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The global distribution of coronavirus vaccines can remind us of D-Day and the subsequent liberation of Europe. The companies and governments that deliver the vaccines will be hailed as liberators and are likely to wield significant political power over the countries they will ‘liberate’. China and Russia are clearly aware of this effect, as they appear to be quite generous when it comes to distributing their vaccines to needy nations. Despite concerns over safety and efficacy of the Chinese and Russian vaccines, many nations are eager to use them. As a consequence, countries such as South Korea and India will be drawn closer to Russia, while Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia and others will tilt towards China. Europe and the U.S., by contrast, seem determined to get ‘their’ vaccines to their own citizens first. While this may be a logical strategy from a domestic societal and economic perspective, the West runs the risk of alienating international allies. As such, sharing vaccines with the rest of the world is not only a matter of humanity, as it is mostly portrayed, but also of geopolitical power play.
Biden’s America on the world stage
On January 20, Joe Biden will become president of the United States. How will he lead the U.S. on the world stage? Previous decades have shown different types of U.S. global leadership. From the ‘unilateral destabilization’ of Bush (withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and did not seek U.N. permission for the invasion of Iraq), and Obama’s ‘failed multilateralism’ (although he struck the nuclear deal with Iran and proposed the TPP trade deal, Trump withdrew from both), to Trump’s ’unilateral sanctions‘ (aimed at both adversaries and allies). Overall, U.S. leadership appears to be declining. Whether Biden can change that depends on how likely his strategy of multilateralism is to succeed. If he manages to strike a deal with the E.U. on China or build an alternative global trade deal, he may succeed where Obama failed. The E.U. however, is unlikely to agree to U.S. demands to counter China, whereas a global trade deal is unlikely given Biden’s electoral promises around trade. Such ‘strategic impasses’ could turn Biden into a caretaker of U.S. leadership, even though smaller ‘multilateral wins’ are likely (e.g. Paris agreement, WHO).
Food security will have its moment on the world stage
In the year in which the World Food Program unexpectedly received the Nobel prize, the fight against hunger faced major setbacks. The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the vulnerabilities in the global food supply chains, causing food insecurity in almost every part of the world and the number of people suffering from hunger to triple. The pandemic also made clear that the way we grow food increases the risk of zoonotic outbreaks. Agriculture makes ecosystems more vulnerable and destroys habitats, thus creating the perfect conditions for viruses to emerge. Further, it clearly showed that being overweight – a problem for more than a third of all adults globally – made people more prone to suffering from the virus. To confront global food security issues, international cooperation is needed to set global goals and standards that integrally address the health of people and of our planet. In 2021, the global Food Systems Summit will take place, an event that might turn out to induce an intergovernmental panel like the one on climate change (IPCC) or a treaty like the Paris Agreement.