Atlanta and other cities can be leveraged during the fraught negotiations that will take place over vaccine access.

Editor’s note: This sponsored article is provided by Kennesaw State University’s Division of Global Affairs and was written by Sonia J. Toson, director of diversity relations at KSU’s Michael J. Coles College of Business and assistant professor of law in the School of Accountancy. 

Sonia Toson

Science is very clear on the fact that COVID-19 cannot be eradicated, or even contained, without global cooperation. In negotiations surrounding the race to develop a vaccine and address other critical facets of the response, the United States should use the influence and relationships of cities like Atlanta as secret weapons that could help bring an end to this pandemic.

The rapid spread of the virus calls for negotiation with every country, requiring negotiators to see beyond the short-terms gains of the present crisis with an eye toward establishing and strengthening long-term global relationships. The U.S. could use Atlanta’s importance as a global health and logistics hub to negotiate access to and distribution of the forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine.

Cities as Key to COVID-19 Solutions

Arguably, the most critical negotiation is the vaccine itself. Various private entities are racing to develop and distribute a vaccine. The country that develops and/or manufactures the vaccine will have a distinct advantage, as it will likely be deployed in that country first. Given the almost certain vaccine shortage (we need billions of vials of the vaccine to reasonably control the spread of COVID-19), other countries will have to negotiate access to it. Atlanta’s logistical importance, paired with its status as home of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is an advantage that could help seal the deal on COVID-19 negotiations.

Also advantageous is Atlanta’s position as the 12th-largest air cargo hub in North America and the 30th worldwide, making it incredibly relevant to solving the supply chain and logistics piece of the pandemic puzzle. The city welcomes over 50 million visitors each year, making it a key stakeholder in the negotiation of COVID-19-related travel bans and limitations.

In addition to negotiating access to a vaccine, countries must also negotiate trade, supply chains and logistics, the ability to travel across borders, and foreign presence in other countries. Foreign students, faculty, researchers and employees are all critical to innovation and progress, so it is this innovation pipeline that must also be negotiated. Atlanta is a key player in each of these areas.

Atlanta is home to 70 consular and trade offices, 37 bi-national chambers of commerce and 2,600 foreign-owned enterprises, which gives the city a voice in global negotiations. COVID-19 negotiations would not be the first time the U.S. has leveraged Atlanta’s presence and influence in an international negotiation.

In 2015, Atlanta hosted the 12 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As representative for the city, then-Mayor Kasim Reed was a vocal supporter for the agreement itself and advocated for a reasonable close to discussions at a point where progress had stalled.

Negotiation Challenges

International negotiation involves six different factors that make it more challenging than domestic negotiations: political and legal pluralism, international economics, regulatory frameworks, instability, ideology, and culture. Negotiators must proactively address each of these before even broaching the specific content of the arbitration at hand.

Negotiating the forthcoming vaccine must take into account the extremely critical nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world is in crisis mode, which means negotiations take on a panicked nature. As such, negotiations around the vaccine will assume the same crisis characteristics as a hostage negotiation. Crisis negotiations typically involve three facets: high stakes, intense emotions, and multiple parties or stakeholders. All three are present in this global pandemic environment.

How to Negotiate

Along with using cities to ultimately close the deal, negotiators should also be sure to consider the unique international context of the vaccine negotiations and acknowledge the unique crisis context in which the negotiations will take place.

These lessons are core to the conflict resolution strategies students learn at Kennesaw State University’s Center for Conflict Management and via international partnerships underpinned by KSU’s Division of Global Affairs.

Faculty and staff at Kennesaw State University understand how to leverage Atlanta’s international influence and global respect in complex negotiations. If we can successfully bring these tools to global vaccine negotiations, we might just take a major step toward the eradication of COVID-19.

For more information, contact the author, Sonia J. Toson, J.D., M.B.A., Director of Diversity Relations at KSU’s Michael J. Coles College of Business and Associate Professor of Law at KSU’s School of Accountancy, at (470) 578-5551 or

Contact Binbin DeVillar, executive director of KSU’s Division of Global Affairs, at (470) 578-7817 or