Asean ministers ink pact to ease flow of essential goods in region amid Covid-19 pandemic

The Memorandum of Understanding was part of Asean's plan to strengthen economic cooperation and supply chain connectivity. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Asean members have agreed to refrain from implementing trade restrictive measures on some essential goods such as medicines and medical supplies amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday (Nov 10), the economic ministers from the 10 member states - including Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing - signed a memorandum of understanding on this when they met ahead of the summit of Asean leaders on Thursday.

The 19th Asean Economic Community (AEC) council meeting was held virtually.

"We had a good start to the meetings," Mr Chan said in a Facebook post. The agreement, he added, "represents our shared commitment to facilitate trade flows within the region for much needed essential goods in our efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic".

Mr Chan added that the MOU on the Implementation of Non-Tariff Measures on Essential Goods was part of Asean's action plan to strengthen economic cooperation and supply chain connectivity.

Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) in a statement said the ministers during their meeting also discussed and and endorsed the Asean Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF) to reaffirm their commitment to work together to mitigate the adverse impacts of the pandemic on the region, as countries gradually re-open their economies.

The ACRF will be submitted to Asean leaders for adoption at their summit, which will be chaired by Vietnam. The AEC Council Report was also endorsed by the ministers for submission to the leaders, said MTI.

The report highlights Asean's efforts to improve trade connectivity and digitalisation in the region, including the implementation of the Asean-wide Self-Certification Scheme to facilitate trade in the region.

Other efforts highlighted in the report include the inaugural Asean Online Sale Day, the Asean Customs Transit System and the adoption of the Declaration on Digital Tourism this year.

The ministers also discussed the preliminary report of the mid-term review of the AEC Blueprint 2025, said MTI.

Asean's efforts to deepen connectivity and digitalisation will generate practical benefits for businesses during this difficult period, Mr Chan was quoted as saying in the MTI statement.

"The successful launch of these initiatives this year also reflect Asean's determination to facilitate trade and strengthen supply chain connectivity within the region," he said.

"The development of the ACRF represents our collective efforts to enable the Asean economies to maximise the benefits of greater economic integration to spur recovery and longer-term resilience," he added.

Mr Chan took part in the AEM's Troika Open-ended Dialogue with Switzerland on Tuesday, said MTI.

On Wednesday, he will attend the Preparatory Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Ministerial Meeting, and on Sunday, the 4th RCEP Summit. The 15-country RCEP , the world's largest free trade agreement, is expected to be signed on Sunday.

This week, Asean leaders are expected to discuss issues related to building intra-bloc cooperation, expanding and deepening relations between Asean and its partners, regional and international issues, as well as controlling the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath.

The 37th Asean Summit as well as related meetings will be taking place virtually from Wednesday till Sunday in Hanoi.

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