The COVID-19 pandemic is posing enormous challenges to economic development, yet it may also unveil new opportunities to ‘build back better’. Renewed industrial policies can play a significant role in shaping the road to overcome the crisis and set countries back on the path of economic development.
Opening the second episode of the webinar series, “Future of Industrialization in a post-pandemic world”, LI Yong, Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) said, “Strengthening the industrial sector is the key to the recovery. To achieve this important goal, industrial policies must be at the centre of governments’ reactions.”
A similar view was shared by Mario Cimoli, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), who emphasized that the post-pandemic recovery must be transformative and countries should place a primary focus not only on economic growth, but also on the direction of growth. “We need growth, but the quality of growth is important. Equality is the pre-condition for industrial policy, growth and development,” said Cimoli.
Drawing on her experience as a policy advisor on innovation-led inclusive and sustainable growth, Mariana Mazzucato, Professor of Economics of Innovation and Public Value at the University College London (UCL) and Founding Director of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, discussed the role of public-private partnership in providing an effective response to the global challenges accelerated by the pandemic – from decarbonization to the digital divide, to any issue around the health system.
Using examples from developing economies, such as Viet Nam and the Indian state of Kerala, Mazzucato stressed the importance of investing in state capacity for a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery. “With COVID-19, we realized we need state capacity”, she said.
She also remarked on the need to place SDGs at the centre of industrial strategy by transforming them into missions to orientate governments’ actions. “SDGs are complex goals. We need to transform governments’ activities – even everyday ones, such as industrial procurement – to be SDG-focused”, said Mazzucato. Pursuing such outcome-focused industrial strategy requires a renewed collaboration across sectors and stakeholders to redesign policy instruments together. In this regard, Mazzucato highlighted the transformational purpose of attaching goal-focused conditions to recovery packages, and how this can lead to more sustainable solutions and social outcomes.
The crucial role of governments in supporting the recovery was also highlighted by Justin Lin, Professor and Dean of the National School of Development at Peking University. Building on his New Structural Economics approach, Lin discussed how industrial policies are necessary to sustain structural change and build more resilient and competitive economies. “To develop an industrial sector, we need a facilitating State,” he said. “If the government is not playing a facilitation role, a spontaneous structural transformation cannot occur.”
In discussing the main challenges to structural change posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lin emphasized that the pandemic recession will leave developing countries with less resources to allocate to industrial policies for structural change. For a fast, inclusive and sustainable recovery, “we need to aim for a quick-win,” he said. “This implies helping existing firms with trade credit, tax exemption and debt rescheduling to get back to production and to provide jobs, export and revenues.” Then, he concluded “the government can use industrial policy to identify priority industries and facilitate the investments to achieve sustainable industrialization”.
All panellists agreed that industrial policies will have a renewed role in shaping the road towards recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and in ‘building back better.’ Recovery packages should be shaped in a way to accelerate a transformative recovery towards a more inclusive and sustainable industrial development, acceleration that can be supported by the industrial application of advanced digital technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The importance of aligning efforts to achieve a resilient industrial development will be at the core of the next flagship report of UNIDO, the Industrial Development Report 2022, which will focus on the impact that the pandemic on the future of industrialization.
About 500 participants from diverse backgrounds followed the “Industrial policy and the road to recovery” webinar via Zoom and YouTube, and contributed to the discussion with a range of interesting questions.