Singapore working with 6 countries to maintain supply of essential goods amid coronavirus lockdowns

Border controls have slowed down traffic or forced re-routing of goods, pushing up freight costs of even necessary supplies such as food and medicine. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Singapore will work closely with six other countries to identify and address trade disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic that could affect the flow of essential goods.

In a joint ministerial statement issued on Wednesday (March 25), the countries - including Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, Myanmar and Brunei - said they will ensure that trade lines via land, air and sea remain open for the flow of goods and essential supplies.

"We recognise that it is in our mutual interest to ensure that trade lines remain open," said the joint statement issued by Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI).

"We are committed to working with all like-minded countries to ensure that trade continues to flow unimpeded, and that critical infrastructure such as our air and seaports remain open to support the viability and integrity of supply chains globally," it added.

Freight carriers around the world are struggling to deliver goods by land, sea or air as the pandemic has forced governments to impose lockdowns, threatening supplies of vital products including medicines. Stockpiling and panic buying by consumers are also adding to supply strains.

In a Facebook post after the release of the joint statement, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said: "Countries must band together and unite in this fight against the virus instead of making decisions that threaten global trade.

"As a country that prides itself on its openness and strong connectivity, Singapore is committed to bringing like-minded partners together to uphold trade and supply chain connectivity, and will continue to lead efforts in this area."

He also welcomed more countries "to join us in this endeavour", saying it would greatly boost efforts to maintain open and connected supply chains.

While China's extreme measures to stop the spread of the virus are now allowing its economy slowly to come back online, supply chains are disintegrating in other parts of the world.

An MTI spokesman on Wednesday noted a sharp drop in airfreight capacity in the wake of flight cancellations and reduced connectivity. Airfreight charges have correspondingly become volatile, rising multiple times.

Globally, some seaports have had restrictions imposed, including suspending port operations, said the spokesman. There have also been some disruptions to land transport because of enhanced border controls.

"The joint announcement seeks to be a timely and reassuring signal internationally and domestically," said the MTI spokesman.

"Singapore hopes that the statement will also catalyse concrete outcomes among the participating countries, such as refraining from imposing export controls, as well as identifying and addressing trade disruptions, especially in essential goods."

For instance, the production of medical equipment often involves supply chains that straddle multiple countries. That means countries must ensure that components and raw materials can flow unimpeded and efficiently, and global supplies of essential goods can be continually replenished.

The joint ministerial statement was borne out of a Singapore initiative, aimed at upholding trade connectivity and maintaining supply chains in response to the Covid-19 disruption. It follows the move last week by Singapore and New Zealand to affirm their commitment to ensure supply chains remain open and connected.

"The decisions that are made today will have a lasting effect on the global economy when the situation stabilises," said Mr Chan in his post. "While the short-term challenges are real and severe, as responsible governments, we must continue to keep an eye on the future and what it will bring for our businesses and people after the virus has been defeated."


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