SINGAPORE: To build resilience for future economic shocks, countries in the region should have common criteria on travel and trade restrictions, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Apr 14).
“It would be useful for ASEAN to have a set of common criteria or guidelines on when to impose travel or trade restrictions, and when and how we can relax them and with what appropriate safeguards,” he said at a virtual Special ASEAN Summit on COVID-19.
“We each have our own domestic considerations, but clear guidelines would help us take a balanced, rational approach that takes into account both health and economic considerations.”
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The ASEAN Coordinating Council Working Group on Public Health Emergencies should study this issue, he added.
Mr Lee and Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan joined the summit via video conference on Tuesday morning. The summit convened by Vietnam, the ASEAN chair for 2020, was chaired by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
Mr Lee said that the crisis will “fundamentally change globalisation”, as he predicted controls on movement of people across borders and that governments will intervene to prevent over-dependency on other countries for food, medical products and other essential goods.
ASEAN countries should therefore do their best to build cooperation and trust with one another, he said.
“We must resist the temptation to turn inwards and away from one another.”
The 10 ASEAN countries have reported at least 20,000 COVID-19 cases in total, but the number is likely to be higher given the lack of testing capability in some areas. Countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, have imposed measures to restrict the movement of residents
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Mr Lee emphasised that ASEAN countries should maintain trade among themselves and persuade their partners to keep trade flowing. Malaysia and Singapore have kept goods flowing although Malaysia has extended its movement control order to Apr 28 and Singapore is in circuit breaker mode until May 4.
“Many of us also export goods and agricultural products overseas. Closing our borders completely would therefore only deprive us all of goods and products that we can produce together, hurting our economies and worsening unemployment,” he said.
He proposed that the regional bloc should still aim to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this year and should also continue pursuing the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement with the European Union.
“Dealing with the immediate crises, while not losing sight of the longer-term objectives, is the best way to enable our economies to survive this crisis, and to bounce back after COVID-19 passes,” he said.
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At the summit, leaders of the ASEAN nations shared information about their states’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and discussed ways in which ASEAN could strengthen cooperation on COVID-19, Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said in a media release.
The leaders issued a declaration which proposed the establishment of a COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund to boost emergency stockpiles for future outbreaks, while pledging further co-operation among member states and voicing commitment to keeping ASEAN’s markets open for trade and investment.
They also emphasised the importance of keeping trade routes open and preserving supply chain connectivity, especially for essential goods such as medical supplies and food.
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Mr Lee said that it was critical for ASEAN to mount a united response, because of how connected and interdependent the countries are.
Four of the world’s 10 busiest air routes are between ASEAN member states. The bloc also has the world’s busiest land crossing – the Causeway between Johor Bahru and Singapore.
“None of us in ASEAN can be truly safe unless the entire region is safe,” Mr Lee said.
By sharing information and keeping each other updated on the situations in each member state, the countries may learn from each other as well as co-operate on issues such as the repatriation of citizens, he added.
The morning meeting was also attended by Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith.
FIND WAYS TO RETURN TO NEW NORMAL
Countries should also work together to mitigate the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic and find ways to return quickly to a sustainable new normal, Mr Lee said at a ASEAN Plus Three Summit on COVID-19 held later on Tuesday.
“We do not know when this pandemic will end, or what the post-COVID-19 world will be like, though it will surely not be a restoration of the status quo ante,” said Mr Lee.
In addition to the 10 ASEAN leaders, this online meeting was attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korea President Moon Jae-in as well as World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Besides discussing the pandemic response, they stressed the importance of working together towards post-pandemic recovery, from stimulating economic activity to restoring connectivity and tourism, said MCI.
“We should maintain a level of trade and economic activity, so that when the pandemic subsides, more of our workers will have kept their jobs, and our economies can recover more quickly,” said Mr Lee.
This is why Singapore and eight other countries, including four ASEAN Member States, recently issued a joint ministerial statement affirming their commitment to keeping trade lines open and trade flows unimpeded, he added.
Countries should also develop safe and controlled ways to allow the movement of people to resume as the outbreak is gradually brought under control.
“No country wants to lift travel restrictions prematurely, for fear of introducing another wave of infections,” Mr Lee said. “But it is possible to work out bilateral or even multilateral arrangements, with necessary assurances in place.”