SINGAPORE - Covid-19 has given the world a common cause to band together, and underscored the importance of multilateral cooperation, said President Halimah Yacob at the Boao Forum for Asia on Tuesday (April 20).
She added that over the past year, countries have worked together in innovative ways through mechanisms such as the World Health Organisation-led vaccine initiative, suggesting that multilateral institutions, including the WHO, can also set standards and provide a science-based framework as countries work on reopening their borders.
"International cooperation is crucial in surmounting this crisis," she said.
She was speaking in a video message at the opening plenary of the annual conference, with a focus on strengthening global governance amid a world in flux.
Travel restrictions have prevented many foreign delegates from attending the event held in the Chinese island province of Hainan this year, with many taking part virtually.
President Halimah noted that while the global outbreak has led to the loss of lives and livelihoods, and exacerbated existing global divisions as well as the weakening of multilateral forums and institutions, it has also catalysed opportunities for growth such as speeding up digitalisation efforts around the world.
Countries have also tried to make the best of the situation by adapting and turning to new modes of engagement, even as trade flows are disrupted and borders are shut, she said.
For instance, Singapore and several key partners - Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Laos, Myanmar, New Zealand and Uruguay - had made a joint commitment last April to keep supply chains open and connected.
And Asean member nations as well as Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand had last November signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the world's largest free trade agreement, with Singapore ratifying it on April 9, she added.
On a broader level, the international community has also developed unprecedented and innovative forms of multilateral cooperation, said President Halimah.
She cited the establishment of the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and the Covid-19 Global Vaccines Access (Covax) Facility to ensure sufficient production and equitable distribution of vaccines.
Singapore, an early supporter of the Covax initiative, has contributed US$5 million (S$6.6 million) to support poorer nations' access to Covid-19 vaccines.
"The Covid-19 pandemic is a defining challenge of our time, but it will not be the last. Long-term transboundary threats remain, including climate change and terrorism," said President Halimah.
"I hope that the international community will be able to learn the lesson that this pandemic has given us - that global governance is ultimately in our common interest - and come to a renewed consensus on the advancement of an open, inclusive and rules-based multilateral system that is fit for purpose in a post-Covid-19 world.
"This will put us in good stead to tackle the challenges ahead, and forge a brighter future for our people," said President Halimah.