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Editorial: Not a time, or a place for a boycott

In the backdrop of French President Emmanuel Macron toughening his stance against Islamic extremism and defending controversial caricatures, many Muslim majority nations have witnessed a call from leaders and citizens to boycott French products.

Editorial: Not a time, or a place for a boycott


Macron’s comments came in the aftermath of the killing of a French teacher outside Paris by a young Chechen radical who had carried out the ghastly act in retaliation for the teacher having presented religiously-tinted cartoons in a class concerning freedom of speech.

Beginning this week, mass protests were carried out in Bangladesh that demanded a boycott of all things French in the nation, whereas a few countries in the Middle-East, such as Jordan, Kuwait, and Qatar saw their supermarkets being emptied of any and every unit of French products from the shelves - from cosmetics to mineral water, cheese and confectionery too. Even leaders like Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined the fray and condemned the European nation for its anti-Muslim sentiment, with the latter exhorting citizens to steer clear of French products.

The timing of such boycotts, whether government-sanctioned or driven by mass hysteria seems telling. Just a few months ago, as the pandemic was raging across the country, India banned over 100 Chinese apps. The provocation was the killing of 20 Indian army men by soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army during a standoff in Ladakh. India, that was battling a virus within its borders, and an expansionist neighbour outside its Line of Actual Control knew better than to fully engage an enemy during a nationwide health emergency. And there’s a good reason for that. China is one of India’s leading trade partners. On the export front, 20 pc of auto components, 70 pc of electronic components, and 45 pc of consumer durables come from China. Despite the jingoism inspired by the PM in August, it was reported that Indian suppliers were continuing to import Chinese testing kits and that domestic manufacturers supply about 25 to 30 pc of RT-PCR kits being used in India.

The recent boycotts might seem like fleeting developments when compared to the Big Daddy of all boycotts, specifically a recent one by the US. The superpower had categorically decided to sit out the WHO-led initiative to develop, manufacture, and equitably distribute a coronavirus vaccine. Over 171 countries, including China, are party to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) Facility, which will enable the member nations to effectively secure adequate vaccine supplies whenever it is formulated.

In pre-pandemic times, the US has often placed trade embargoes on many nations, which have weakened their economic stature. Just last week, Cuba’s Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez lamented that the island nation has suffered losses over $144 bn in the past six decades owing to the US trade embargo against it. And it ends up paying $2 bn a year to import food. A similar treatment was meted out to Iran, with whom the US shares a very prickly relationship. After US President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal that was signed in 2015 and reimposed sanctions, the country has been struggling to maintain its old fleet of commercial aircraft. Just a few of the 300 planes ordered were delivered which has compelled the country’s airlines into patching up older airplanes, even as it cannot easily procure spare parts.

One of the lessons learned the hard way, during the lockdown of the pandemic, was how intrinsically nations were reliant on each other and their trade partners for the fulfilment of everyday essentials. Political and strategic interests aside, leaders in the post-pandemic world must prioritise human values and virtues over the need to establish regional or economic supremacy over one another. What we need are not bans, but band-aid.

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