Singapore has been working to secure food supply: PM Lee

Singapore imports over 90 per cent of its food, and diversification is a key strategy to ensure a supply of safe food. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

TOKYO - The latest global food supply crunch is regrettable, but Singapore has prepared for such disruptions and has been working for several years to secure its supply of food, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (May 27).

The Republic has been building its buffer of food stocks and diversifying its sources of imports so that Singaporeans are not unduly affected in the event of shocks, he added.

The war in Ukraine and high inflation have disrupted the global food supply chain.

"Governments are under pressure, and sometimes they take unconventional measures, for example, interdicting exports of products, and several governments have done this.

"It is regrettable that as a consumer country which imports food, we are adversely impacted," PM Lee said in an interview with Singapore media on the final day of his four-day working visit to Tokyo.

While he did not single out any country in his response, Malaysia said earlier this week that it would halt exports of 3.6 million whole chickens per month from June 1 until production and prices stabilise.

India has also announced plans to restrict sugar exports to prevent a surge in domestic prices.

In the current situation, the immediate urgency is to secure the supply of food.

"The answer is not what we do now, but what we have been doing now for several years, which has been to build up our buffer stocks and resiliency, and diversify our sources," PM Lee said.

"So that (when) any single source is interrupted, we are not unduly affected, and if you can't buy chicken from one place, you can buy from other countries. This time it is chicken, next time it may be something else. We have to be prepared for this," he added.

PM Lee recalled how, in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions meant masks and personal protective equipment, or PPE, were in short supply.

Some countries scrambled to meet their own needs by interdicting and requisitioning supplies which would be manufactured in their own country, or sometimes even when transiting in the country.

Seeking redress at the World Trade Organisation is an option if there are violations of global trading rules, but PM Lee said this was a lengthy process.

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Singapore has been prepared for disruptions. The Republic imports more than 90 per cent of its food, and diversification is a key strategy to ensure supply.

While Malaysia is the main source of fresh chicken, it accounted for 34 per cent of the Republic's chicken supply last year, with the rest imported from Brazil, the United States and other countries.

On Thursday (May 26), Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Desmond Tan said there is adequate supply of chicken in Singapore, and urged people to refrain from panic buying.

Supermarket chain FairPrice said it had a stockpile of frozen chicken that can last about four months, with another two months of supply on the way.

As for sugar, importers said Singapore is not likely to be affected by India's export curbs. On Friday (May 27), a Singapore Food Agency spokesman said sugar is imported from over 40 countries, including Australia, India, Malaysia and Thailand.

The spokesman added that should there be a disruption to any one source, it would work with importers to tap alternative sources to keep supply stable.

PM Lee was in Tokyo to speak at the 27th International Conference for the Future of Asia, organised by Japanese media group Nikkei, where he stressed that collective security and economic engagement were key to staving off conflict.

He also met Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and they discussed bilateral cooperation and broader global developments, including Ukraine, and United States-China relations.

"It was a good discussion, we had a very lively exchange, and I hope that before long, I will be able to invite PM Kishida to Singapore, and we can continue the conversation," he said.

PM Lee also told reporters that inflation and cost of living are pressing issues in a very unsettled world, but cautioned: "In the scheme of things, many more disruptive things can happen than just some price adjustments. And we are seeing some of that now."

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