COVID-19 SPECIAL

Firms welcome move to reopen travel with China

Under the "fast lane" arrangement to facilitate essential travel for business and official purposes between Singapore and China, travellers will have to undergo a Covid-19 swab test before departure and upon arrival.
Under the "fast lane" arrangement to facilitate essential travel for business and official purposes between Singapore and China, travellers will have to undergo a Covid-19 swab test before departure and upon arrival.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Businesses say it is a good first step, but they remain cautious as safety is still top priority

Businesses and associations welcomed the move to gradually reopen travel with China, although they remain cautious due to safety concerns.

The Government announced yesterday that a "fast lane" arrangement will be launched with China to facilitate essential travel for business and official purposes between the two countries.

But this arrangement requires procedures such as a Covid-19 swab test before departure and upon arrival. Businesses or government organisations sponsoring travellers must also file applications on their behalf.

This is a good first step forward, especially as travel restrictions have been cited as one of the major concerns among businesses, associations said.

Mr Ho Meng Kit, Singapore Business Federation chief executive, said: "The launch of the 'fast lane' arrangement is a positive start for both countries to resume business operations, while facilitating the connectivity of people and supply chains. This will contribute to the revitalisation of our economies."

A survey done by the association showed that 46 per cent of Singapore businesses with an overseas presence have business operations in China.

More than 80 per cent of companies that participated in another study by the association in the past few months also said the travel ban is the top challenge for their overseas business operations.

Mr Ho said companies are also hoping that the arrangement can be extended beyond the six provinces, which cover Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, agreed that it could be extended to the rest of China in due time.

He said companies want to restart trade discussions with their counterparts or do procurement and carry out periodic inspection. Those with factories and operating teams in China need to do management work as well.

"It is great that both countries have established mutually recognised protocols for travel both ways," he said.

 
 
 

"What will be important (are the) measures of social distancing and safety that will remain. We have a lot of confidence in how they are managing things in China, so the business community is really looking forward to this opening up."

Mr Ang Wee Seng, executive director of the Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association, said: "China plays an important role in the semiconductor supply chain ecosystem, and opening the borders to allow safe travel to China is definitely the right step forward to maintaining key manufacturing production and operations."

Mr Ernie Koh, executive director of marketing at furniture manufacturer Koda, said he might make use of the new travel bubble to allow some critical staff to fly to China.

Most of his stores, which are under Koda's retail arm Commune Lifestyle, are in the six provinces, although the regional headquarters is in Dongguan.

But he added that safety considerations remain top of mind.

"There is the fear of my staff contracting the virus en route there or while there. The company has to end up taking the responsibility of taking care of the staff, and we don't know whether travel insurance covers this aspect."

Mr Francis Ng, chief executive of restaurant chain House Of Seafood, said he would wait for the initial travel rush among businesses to die down before trying to visit China.

 

He usually travels about twice a month to ensure operations run smoothly at the two restaurants in Shenyang and Chengdu.

"We will wait for any initial issues to be ironed out first. Health is more important than business, and earning money can wait," he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2020, with the headline 'Firms welcome move to reopen travel with China'. Print Edition | Subscribe