Safe border reopening needed to boost economic recovery in Asia-Pacific region: Gan Kim Yong

Safe reopening is needed to reconnect with the world and underpin economic recovery, said Mr Gan. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The safe reopening of borders is needed in the Asia-Pacific region for businesses to reconnect with the world and underpin economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, said Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong.

"Business transactions can take place virtually, but nothing can replace in-person interactions to build relationships and trust," he said at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Business Advisory Council meeting on Wednesday (Feb 16).

The four-day meeting of the council, Abac, the private-sector arm of the 21-member Apec, is hosted by Singapore and held in a hybrid format at Resorts World Sentosa.

Abac's mandate is to advise government leaders and Apec officials on issues of interest to the business community. Beyond Asia, Apec members include the United States, Russia, Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand and Peru.

A total of 100 delegates attended Wednesday's meeting physically, while a similar number were logged in to the morning session virtually.

Mr Gan said: "As the voice of enterprises, Abac has the unique capability to influence and lead many positive changes in the integration of Apec economies."

He applauded the council's work last year on the Taskforce on Reopening Borders for Safe and Seamless Travel, chaired by Abac Singapore representative and Singapore Business Federation chief executive Lam Yi Young.

The task force's recommendations led to the establishment of the Apec Safe Passage Taskforce, which will convene its first meeting on Feb 21 to discuss ways to achieve safe and seamless resumption of cross-border travel among Apec members.

Mr Gan said Singapore supports work on this front, including discussions on simplifying health protocols and mutual recognition of health certificates.

"While Covid-19 remains unpredictable, we must find a way to live with the virus, especially with vaccination," he said.

"This approach has allowed Singapore to continue the journey of reopening our borders in a safe and calibrated manner to facilitate international travels," he added, referring to the introduction of quarantine-free vaccinated travel lanes.

"This will help further broaden our travel network and strengthen our connectivity with the rest of the world."

Mr Gan said, to further strengthen economic recovery, Apec members must also explore opportunities for cooperation in the digital economy, seize new growth prospects in the green economy and strengthen supply chain resilience.

The minister said that Apec's gross domestic product is forecast to grow by 4.2 per cent this year, after a 5.8 per cent expansion last year.

The Abac meetings here, which end on Feb 18, cover five topics, each under the purview of a working group - regional economic integration; digital; sustainability; finance and economics; micro, small and medium enterprises and inclusiveness.

Mr Lam, who is the chairman of the Regional Economic Integration Working Group of Abac, said that while Covid-19 is the most severe crisis the world has faced in a long time, it has also shown how people and communities are adaptable, innovative and can rise together to face a common challenge.

"Reopening of borders is vital to the recovery of our economies and communities," he said.

The deliberation by Abac in this regard will enable the Asia-Pacific region to not only recover, but also build a stronger, more resilient and sustainable economy, he noted.

Mr Lam said holding the Abac meeting in a hybrid format is part of Singapore's efforts to reopen its borders, reconnect with people and resume business as usual.

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