As they battle a pandemic that has no regard for borders, the leaders of many of the world’s largest economies are in the thrall of unabashedly nationalist principles, undermining collective efforts to tame the coronavirus.
The United States, an unrivaled scientific power, is led by a president who openly scoffs at international cooperation while pursuing a global trade war. India, which produces staggering amounts of drugs, is ruled by a Hindu nationalist who has ratcheted up confrontation with neighbors. China, a dominant source of protective gear and medicines, is bent on a mission to restore its former imperial glory.
Now, just as the world requires collaboration to defeat the coronavirus — scientists joining forces across borders to create vaccines, and manufacturers coordinating to deliver critical supplies — national interests are winning out. This time, the contest is over far more than which countries will make iPads or even advanced jets. This is a battle for supremacy over products that may determine who lives and who dies.
With every country on the planet in need of the same lifesaving tools at once, national rivalries are jeopardizing access for all. At least 69 countries have banned or restricted the export of protective equipment. President Trump and his leading trade adviser, Peter Navarro, have exploited the pandemic as an opportunity to redouble efforts to force multinational companies to abandon China and shift production to the United States.
“The parties with the deepest pockets will secure these vaccines and medicines, and essentially, much of the developing world will be entirely out of the picture,” said Simon J. Evenett, an expert on international trade who started the University of St. Gallen project. “We will have rationing by price. It will be brutal.”
China’s new price data adds bad signs for the economy.
China is scheduled next week to release economic data for the first three months of the year, when the coronavirus and efforts to contain the outbreak brought the world’s No. 2 economy to a virtual standstill. Price data released on Friday offered a further glimpse of how bad the numbers may be.
The producer prices index in China fell 1.5 percent in March compared with a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics reported on Friday. The figure marked an accelerated drop from February, when it fell 0.4 percent, as much of the country shut down in an effort to contain the outbreak.
The producer price index tracks the prices that factory owners see as goods pass in and out of their doors. A decline suggests weakening demand for what the country’s crucial industrial sector makes. It also reflects lower prices for oil and other fuels and raw materials.
For consumers, inflation eased a bit from continuing high rates. The consumer price index fell to 4.3 percent as government efforts to control price increases took effect. Beijing has been eager to make sure transportation and production problems don’t lead to higher prices for food and other basic necessities for the Chinese people. Prices have been rising at a fast clip for other reasons as well, including a swine disease that has devastated China’s pig herds.
Global markets are mixed as a holiday quiets trading.
Markets in the Asia-Pacific region ended mixed on Friday, as the Good Friday holiday created a rare muted session after weeks of whipsaw trading.
The Nikkei 225 index ended up 0.8 percent, following a more than 1 percent rise on Wall Street on Thursday. Markets in the United States and many European markets were closed on Friday for the holiday.
The biggest news for investors was in oil markets, where major producing countries were expected to hammer out a deal to slow production and bring to an end a clash over prices. Still, the cuts may not be enough to reassure oil markets or soothe concerns about the fate of countries where the economy depends heavily on petroleum production. Prices on oil futures markets fell on Thursday in the United States.
In other markets, mainland China’s Shanghai Composite index was down 1 percent. South Korea’s Kospi was up 1.3 percent, while in Taiwan the Taiex was up 0.4 percent. Markets in Hong Kong and Australia were closed for the holiday.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other countries including Russia reached a tentative agreement on Thursday to temporarily cut large volumes of production.
OPEC and the other oil-producing countries agreed to cut about 10 million barrels a day, or about 10 percent from normal production levels, in May and June, they said in a statement on Friday.
Possible further trims could come from a meeting of the Group of 20 nations on Friday.
Negotiations hit a snag late Thursday over Mexico’s reluctance to cut its share of oil, reportedly 400,000 barrels a day, leaving the deal in limbo.
Even before that happened, oil prices fell because analysts and traders had hoped for a bigger reduction to prevent the buildup of a glut of oil. On Thursday afternoon, the West Texas Intermediate crude future contract, the American benchmark, was down more than 7 percent to $23.28 a barrel.
Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects, a research firm, said markets would not be impressed by the deal.
In addition, the new cuts won’t begin until May, allowing oil supplies to increase. There are also doubts about whether some of the countries party to the cuts, like Iraq, which often produces whatever it can, will really observe them. Ms. Sen said that OPEC and its collaborators were largely doing what they would be forced to do anyway.
Still, the meeting appears to be at least a start at tackling the most serious problem the oil industry and OPEC countries have encountered in decades. The decision to cut might go some way toward assuaging growing tensions between members of the cartel and the United States.
Peter S. Goodman, Katie Thomas, Sui-Lee Wee, Jeffrey Gettleman, Clifford Krauss, Carlos Tejada, Stanley Reed and Daniel Victor contributed reporting.