S'pore and New Zealand: Standing together amid Covid-19 challenges


New Zealand and Singapore face a less predictable and more economically volatile international environment than ever in living memory.

Despite - or perhaps because of - these challenging times, Singapore and New Zealand have shown an even greater commitment to working together, most recently seen through the Declaration on Trade in Essential Goods for Combating the Covid-19 Pandemic announced last month by New Zealand Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker and Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.

Together we made sure this declaration went beyond mere words. In mid-April, I stood alongside Minister Chan as we welcomed the arrival of the first freight flight, carrying 20 tonnes of chilled meat for Singapore. It struck me that only a few months ago, flight arrivals were such an unremarkable event. How the world has changed.

A regular series of these flights are now under way, transporting more food for Singapore and medical supplies and other goods for New Zealand. We've seen supply chains and normal markets everywhere disrupted by Covid-19, and this air connectivity arrangement is designed to keep things moving.

Singapore and New Zealand have demonstrated time and again that we are global leaders in setting standards for open trade. The declaration follows a joint statement Mr Parker and Mr Chan made on March 25, which has now been joined by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Laos, Myanmar, Nauru, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay. It aims to ensure supply chain connectivity and the removal of barriers to trade in essential goods, especially medical supplies.

Our two countries, alongside Chile, have also concluded negotiations for a ground-breaking Digital Economy Partnership Agreement. We hope the ministers will virtually sign this soon. The need for good rules to support digital trade has been brought into stark relief during this period of lockdowns and circuit breaker measures. And it is clear digitalisation will allow international trade and our economies to recover more quickly once Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted.

These initiatives and the level of swift and seamless action following the outbreak of Covid-19 would have been impossible in the absence of the deep reservoir of trust between Singapore and New Zealand. Our complementary economies and open outlook have helped us build a strong bilateral relationship over the years, and underpin the numerous agreements between us.

Later this month, we will mark the first anniversary of the Enhanced Partnership (EP) signed by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on May 17 last year.

The EP provides a framework for cooperation across four main areas - defence and security, trade, science and innovation and people-to-people ties. The EP has allowed us to bring tangible benefits to Singaporeans and New Zealanders through improved "behind the border" access.

We are also investing in greenfield areas such as research into data science and future foods. The aim is to develop cutting-edge technologies that provide solutions to challenges that have become even more pertinent in the face of Covid-19, including helping Singapore achieve its "30 by 30" initiative. Global pandemics have historically catalysed vast social and economic changes. There is no doubt that Covid-19 has pushed us all to re-evaluate various aspects of our life - not only how we can stay connected while being physically apart, but on even bigger issues like our food supply chains, healthcare and education systems or our digital infrastructure.

And although it may be tempting for some, now is absolutely not the time to retreat from a rules-based international system, and from multilateral forums. Now is the time to work towards collective long-term solutions that benefit the many rather than the few, and to do this, we will need to commit to restoring and reinvigorating global institutions.

In particular, New Zealand, Singapore, and our friends will need to band together and advocate for international collaboration. We may be slowly winning the battle against Covid-19, but another - much bigger - challenge still lies ahead of us.

Climate change also knows no borders, and must be tackled by everyone if we are to "flatten the curve". Global problems, whatever they are, require global solutions, even if we kick-start them through bilateral or regional solutions.

As we stand at the precipice of a changed world, my hope is that we continue to keep our people connected and united through a deepened commitment to the international rules-based system.

I am a firm believer that everything else flows from people - the experiences they have and the links they forge. And I speak on behalf of all New Zealanders when I say that we are grateful for the trusted and reliable friend we have in Singapore.

New Zealand, now more than ever, stands with Singapore.

  • Jo Tyndall is the New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2020, with the headline S'pore and New Zealand: Standing together amid Covid-19 challenges. Subscribe