First S'pore-Malaysia meeting on Iskandar zone held since 2017

Joint ministerial panel notes progress made by bilateral work groups

An annual meeting for Singapore and Malaysia to review cooperation in the south Johor economic zone of Iskandar convened virtually on Tuesday after a four-year hiatus.

The Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM) met for the first time since 2017, with a 2019 gathering postponed due to the unsanctioned intrusion by Johor's then chief minister into Singapore waters amid an ongoing territorial spat that began in late 2018.

Tuesday's meeting, the 14th by the committee, was hosted by Singapore's National Development Minister Desmond Lee, with Transport Minister S. Iswaran also present.

Malaysia was represented by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Economy) Mustapa Mohamed and current Johor Menteri Besar Hasni Mohammad.

According to a joint press statement, the JMCIM noted the progress made by six bilateral work groups covering areas spanning industrial cooperation, environment, tourism, iconic projects, immigration and transport links.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore-based companies have continued to invest in Iskandar Malaysia, with 20 manufacturing projects with a total value of US$112 million (S$153 million) approved in the first half of this year.

There were 52 approved projects amounting to US$476 million last year.

In 2019, there were 52 manufacturing projects approved, totalling US$371 million in value.

The committee acknowledged the success of the quarantine-free land vaccinated travel lane (VTL) between Singapore and Malaysia that was launched on Nov 29.

Over the past month, the scheme has been expanded to increase the number of bus trips plying the Causeway and to allow citizens of each country to enter the other, instead of just returning home.

But yesterday, with growing fears over the global spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant and Singapore detecting its first cluster, the Government announced that the number of travellers allowed under the land VTL would be temporarily halved from Jan 21 next year, along with the suspension of new bus ticket sales from Dec 23 to Jan 20.

The JMCIM on Tuesday said that as at Nov 30, more than 693,988 applications had been approved for the Malaysia Automated Clearance System pass that can be scanned at checkpoints for speedier clearance.

While the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link remains on track to start passenger service by end-2026, the Tebrau Shuttle between Johor Baru and Woodlands will remain suspended until at least May next year, as Malaysia's railway company KTMB continues work on the Gemas-Johor Baru electrified double-track project.

The transport work group under the committee will study the use of electric vehicles within and across Singapore and Malaysia, as part of a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Further areas of collaboration - such as in sustainability, the digital economy and food security - are being explored.

The committee's last meeting was due to be held on Jan 14, 2019, but was called off with Singapore's Foreign Ministry saying that then Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian's presence on a Malaysian vessel in Singapore waters off Tuas had rendered the meeting "untenable".

This came amid a dispute over maritime boundaries sparked by Kuala Lumpur unilaterally extending Johor Baru's port limits to encroach on Singapore's territory.

The JMCIM is scheduled to next meet in the middle of next year.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2021, with the headline First S'pore-Malaysia meeting on Iskandar zone held since 2017. Subscribe