A new consensus is growing across the European Union – and other parts of the world too: that globalization has gone too far. The argument goes as follows: as an exchange for higher efficiency and lower prices, Europe has sacrificed its ability to take care of itself and protect its own citizens. The Covid-19 crisis has revealed how much Europe depends on the rest of the world for products like medical goods and medicines. Therefore, if Europe does not want to live through another shortage of essential supplies, the lesson of the Covid-19 crisis is that the EU has to produce these products itself.
This conclusion may sound intuitive but it is fundamentally wrong. Europe is not overly dependent on the rest of the world because most trade in the EU is done within its own borders. New evidence presented in this paper shows that there were only 112 products, making just 1.2% of the value of EU total imports, for which the four largest suppliers were non-EU countries as compared to more than two thousand products for which the four largest suppliers were from EU member states. And while not every product is equally important in the face of a global pandemic, there is not a single Covid-19 related good for which all EU imports only came from non-EU countries.
This paper debunks the idea that the EU is too reliant on other countries. Instead, our analysis shows that imports from the rest of the world make every EU member state more resilient by diversifying its sources of supply.
Because of their geographical location and economic integration, if there was to be a shock like a pandemic, a plague, or a nuclear disaster, groups of EU countries are likely to be hit simultaneously. Having sources of supply outside the EU is therefore critical to reduce Europe’s vulnerability to these shocks. Europe’s recent experience has shown that international trade is a strength, not a weakness, and the EU was blessed to be able to tap into the manufacturing capacity of the rest of the world to buy urgently needed medical goods from abroad during the hardest months of the pandemic.
Preparing for future crisis like Covid-19 is extremely complex. Nobody knows which type of shock will come after Covid-19, which economic activities will be impacted, or what kind of goods will be needed to protect our citizens. Yet, any debate about the merits of re-shoring should be based on figures and not on narratives. This paper analyzes EU imports on more than 9,000 products and concludes that Europe should not build its resilience by the mandatory re-shoring of economic activities. That is the opposite of diversification. Besides, reshoring will increase costs and hit citizens in the poorest countries the hardest.
An economy that is served by multiple firms across multiple locations is more resilient to random shocks than one where goods are produced by fewer firms in the same location. While re-shoring may bring the illusion of control, in reality, the EU will be more vulnerable and dependent on fewer and larger companies. This is why globalization and the EU’s reliance on the rest of the world is what makes the EU more resilient.ECI_20_OccPaper_06-2020_LY03
Oscar Guinea is a Senior Economist at ECIPE. Florian Forsthuber is a Trainee at the European Central Bank.
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