Coronavirus: Singapore, Australia, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand commit to resuming essential cross-border travel

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing at the video conference with his four counterparts on May 1, 2020. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY

SINGAPORE - Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and trade ministers from Australia, Canada, South Korea and New Zealand have agreed to facilitate the resumption of essential cross-border travel while balancing public health considerations amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Guidelines will be established to facilitate such travel, which should be for the purposes of maintaining global supply chains.

They also agreed to expedite Customs procedures and refrain from introducing export restrictions on essential items such as food and medical supplies, as well as ensure that logistics networks continue to operate via air, sea and land freight.

"These initiatives will not only help us overcome the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but also position us well for a swift recovery once the situation stabilises," said Mr Chan in a Facebook post on Friday (May 1).

The five ministers issued a joint statement on Friday morning, after a video conference, detailing action plans to facilitate the flow of goods and services as well as the essential movement of people.

For example, expediting Customs procedures could involve greater use of electronic means for customs processing, which minimise face-to-face interactions without lengthening processing times.

Bilateral and/or multilateral cooperative arrangements could also help expedite necessary approval procedures for air crew and the utilisation of additional aircraft for cargo operations.

The ministers also committed to minimising the impact of Covid-19 on trade and investment, and facilitating economic recovery from the pandemic.

This would entail working closely with key multilateral economic institutions like the World Trade Organisation, sharing of best practices and consulting with the private sector to come up with solutions, they said.

During the video conference, Mr Chan said: "The Covid-19 pandemic is not only an unprecedented public health crisis, but also poses unprecedented socio-economic disruptions and changes to the way we live."

He was addressing his counterparts - Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham; Canadian Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade Mary Ng; South Korean Minister for Trade Yoo Myung-hee; and New Zealand Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker.

"Such a crisis requires a collective and coordinated response from us," said Mr Chan.

To overcome challenges to production capacities, capabilities and connectivity, countries will have to "resist the protectionist tide of looking inwards and allowing trade restrictive measures to persist", he said.

Travel restrictions arising from the coronavirus have also disrupted business activities around the world. Resuming essential travel can help to bring about economic recovery, added Mr Chan.

"For us to achieve this, it will be important for us to have some standardised protocols for mutual assurance of health standards, in terms of testing and contact tracing."

"If we can work together on similar standards for reassurance, that will be a great help towards the resumption of travel. This will also allow the inter-dependency of supply chains to resume."

Separately, Singapore and Japan also agreed on Friday to deepen bilateral economic cooperation in order to secure supply chains for essential goods and strengthen economic resilience.

Both countries will refrain from imposing export restrictions on essential supplies, including agricultural food products and medical supplies, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry and Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in a joint statement.

They will also step up cooperation in the area of the digital economy.

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