The gradual resumption of travel will enable economic recovery and spur confidence in businesses in South-east Asia, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, as he urged countries to lift restrictions on Asean states as the Covid-19 situation stabilises.
Speaking at the virtual 23rd Asean Plus Three (APT) Summit between the regional bloc and China, Japan and South Korea, PM Lee emphasised the need to resume essential travel safely between countries.
He noted that Singapore has bilateral green lane arrangements with some Asean member states and the three East Asian countries to facilitate essential travel.
"Eventually, we look forward to resuming safe and smooth travel within the region. This will strengthen our people-to-people ties and give our economies a much-needed boost," he said.
In separate meetings with Australia and New Zealand, PM Lee said the Republic has lifted border restrictions to allow visitors from the two countries, and hopes they will do the same soon.
He added that the two countries and Asean should work towards "progressively and safely lifting travel restrictions", as the Covid-19 situation stabilises and economies get back on track. "The reopening of our borders in a safe and calibrated manner will facilitate the resumption of economic activity, and is an important confidence marker for our peoples and businesses," he said during the second Asean-Australia Biennial Summit.
In his speeches, PM Lee also called for cooperation in the development and supply of Covid-19 vaccines, and in economic recovery by upholding a rules-based system with open supply chains.
During the meeting with China, Japan and South Korea, he noted that the APT bloc's long record of cooperation in public health emergencies began with the Sars outbreak in 2003. The three countries were among the first to support Asean during the Covid-19 crisis, contributing more than US$60 million (S$81 million) to the Covid-19 Asean Response Fund.
PM Lee said discussions are under way to create an APT reserve of essential medical supplies, building upon the Asean Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies.
He noted the APT's economic ministers are adopting a joint statement and finalising an action plan to address the economic fallout from the pandemic.
Yesterday, the grouping also adopted a leaders' statement on strengthening APT cooperation for economic and financial resilience in the face of emerging challenges.
PM Lee noted that Singapore, Australia and New Zealand support "vaccine multilateralism" and are Friends of the Covax Facility.
The Covax or Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access, aims to provide vaccines for the 76 countries involved, and 92 other poorer nations supported under the scheme.
"We should complement that with cooperation in vaccine research and development, and by building up our vaccine manufacturing capacities to support regional demand," said PM Lee.
On economic recovery, he reaffirmed Singapore's commitment to abide by "a free, open and rules-based multilateral trading system and maintain supply chain connectivity". He cited today's signing of the 15-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership as a major step forward. He also called for all parties to press on with the General Review of the Asean-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the most comprehensive FTA Asean has concluded to date and which can be "a pathfinder for future FTAs".
In the APT meeting, PM Lee called for the use of regional platforms to boost cooperation, such as the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation to improve market confidence and financial stability in this region, and the Asean Smart Cities Network to discuss the use of technology in fighting Covid-19.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia is committing around A$500 million (S$489.7 million) over three years to support access to safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines for South-east Asia and the Pacific.
"The support that this provides gives us all, and particularly throughout the region, new choices based on... the best health and science, and reflects our shared stake in your recovery," he said.
In her meeting with Asean leaders, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "Our partnership will play an important role as our countries work together to support global efforts to manage the pandemic and ensure fair and equitable access to safe vaccines, and drive economic recovery through maintaining open markets for our exporters and resilient supply chains."