Coronavirus: Asean and EU ministers agree to step up cooperation, keep supply chains open

A migrant worker from Myanmar works at a market at Bangkok, Thailand, March 20, 2020.
A migrant worker from Myanmar works at a market at Bangkok, Thailand, March 20, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Ministers from Asean and the European Union agreed to step up cooperation, keep supply chains open and exchange information to combat Covid-19 and the impact it has had on their economies when they met in a video conference on Friday (March 20).

The two groupings also stressed the importance of standing in solidarity and supporting each other during this difficult time, and of taking "decisive, rational, and objective steps based on data and scientific evidence" in fighting the global pandemic.

In a statement issued by the co-chairs of the Asean-EU ministerial video conference on the coronavirus disease 2019, the ministers said they updated each other on recent measures taken by their respective associations, and will continue to work together while taking into account the different development levels of health systems in their regions.

Singapore is the current coordinator of the Asean-EU dialogue partnership. Also at the meeting were Vietnam Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, Asean secretary-general Lim Jock Hoi and officials from Asean and EU members.

Vietnam currently chairs Asean, and has postponed a summit of Asean leaders planned for early April to the end of June due to the coronavirus.

At the meeting, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan suggested leaders work to come up with common guidelines for time-limited travel restrictions.

"This would allow us to be more prepared for the long-term existence of Covid-19 globally, as we work to minimise the political, economic and social impact of this devastating pandemic," he said.

For now, countries' first priorities are to take "urgent action" to maintain their people's health. "When the situation stabilises, it is critical that we work together to boost our economies. This means doubling down on trade and investment, and returning to the spirit of openness with our partners."

Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport Lam Pin Min likewise emphasised the need to "be prepared for the long-haul" and "look ahead to find more sustainable solutions... to limit the spread of the coronavirus".

At the meeting, the Asean and EU ministers said they would strengthen and continue to use regional and international mechanisms in dealing with the outbreak, and noted "the importance of timely and decisive measures to contain the outbreak, which would strengthen public confidence".

European Commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic said these were "unprecedented times" and the EU will continue "working on all fronts and with all available means to support these efforts at home and abroad... (and continue) to engage strongly with our international partners".

Added High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell: "International cooperation and coordination is essential if we are to tackle this pandemic effectively."