SINGAPORE - Singapore will contribute $7.9 million worth of medical supplies to a regional reserve as part of the city-state's support for Asean's collective effort to prepare for future public health emergencies, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Tuesday (Oct 26).
To help with swift and equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines within the region, Singapore is also ramping up cold chain logistics services and expanding vaccine manufacturing capabilities, with three new production facilities in the pipeline.
Major pharmaceutical companies BioNTech, Sanofi and Thermo Fisher Scientific have revealed plans to set up vaccine manufacturing facilities in Singapore.
PM Lee was speaking at a virtual Asean Summit with his counterparts from South-east Asia, at the start of three days of meetings revolving around the 10-nation bloc chaired by Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
Outlining areas in which Asean could further cooperate after nearly two years of a pandemic, PM Lee cited the need to improve access to vaccines and noted that Singapore has donated to other countries its vaccine allocation through the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access (Covax) facility.
Together with Switzerland, Singapore co-chairs the Friends of Covax Facility to promote vaccine multilateralism.
The initiative, backed by the World Health Organisation, aims to give people in poor countries access to vaccines. However, it has suffered logistical difficulties and vaccine shortages, with reports of wealthy nations buying up several times more doses than lower-income ones.
In Sept 2021, Singapore contributed over 122,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine procured under Covax to Batam and the Riau Islands in Indonesia.
PM Lee also noted on Tuesday that Singapore will be contributing its allocation of the Covid-19 Asean Response Fund to other member states and the Asean secretariat.
The fund serves as a pool of financial resources for the group to purchase vaccines, among other pandemic efforts.
Singapore's prime minister also urged his regional counterparts to step up the process of ratifying the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world's largest trade pact involving all 10 Asean members, plus Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
The pact was concluded last year but needs the ratification of at least six Asean members and three others. Singapore was the first to do so in April 2021.
"In these difficult times we must work even harder on economic integration," said PM Lee. "The RCEP will boost confidence in regional trade and investment, and contribute significantly towards the region's post-pandemic economic recovery.
"I look forward to the swift ratification of the RCEP by all Asean member states and partners, for the agreement to enter into force by January 2022 as planned."
In his speech, PM Lee also called for the progressive reopening of economies as the pandemic comes under control.
"This is an important aspect of 'living with Covid-19'," he said, pointing to Singapore's use of Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) to facilitate the quarantine-free entry of fully inoculated visitors.
To that end, Singapore welcomes the adoption of the Asean Travel Corridor Arrangement Framework initiated last year, and the development of interoperable digital solutions to enable travel to resume safely, said PM Lee.
For instance, digital health certificates showing proof of testing and vaccination should be developed and mutually recognised, he added.
PM Lee then made a final point on digital transformation, suggesting that Asean collaborate through existing initiatives such as its Smart Cities Network, which aims to use technology and urban planning to improve quality of life and build a sustainable future across the region.
"Relying more on technology also means we need more robust cyber security measures," he said.
He added that this includes strengthening regional resilience through protecting critical information infrastructure and conducting capacity-building programmes, and pointed to the Asean-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence unveiled in 2018.
The centre officially opened its main campus in North Bridge Road in Oct 2021 to complement an existing facility in Temasek Polytechnic.
About $30 million has been earmarked to fund the centre up till 2023, as it researches and trains experts to respond to local and regional cyber security incidents.
PM Lee raised similar points during the Asean-Korea summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in later on Tuesday, as he called for greater cooperation in areas of digitalisation and information and communications technologies.
South Korea has leveraged tech in tackling the pandemic, including through self-screening applications, epidemiological investigation and contact tracing, PM Lee noted.
He thanked South Korea for helping Asean develop digitalisation capabilities, in particular for micro, small and medium enterprises.
Stressing the importance of maintaining connectivity, PM Lee cited Singapore’s VTL with South Korea which takes effect on Nov 15 as he noted: “As countries roll out their vaccination programmes, we can progressively and safely lift travel restrictions.”
To aid the aviation sector’s recovery and accelerate opportunities for businesses, both Asean and South Korea should also make a concerted push to conclude an air services agreement and update their free trade pact, said PM Lee.
He again urged the participating countries in the RCEP - South Korea is one of them - to expedite their ratification of the agreement, to underscore a collective commitment to multilateral trade and economic integration.