SINGAPORE - Essential travel for expatriates and businessmen between Singapore and Japan could resume next month, as both countries agree to ease restrictions currently in place to combat the spread of Covid-19.
The two countries are currently in talks to set up two tracks that will allow cross-border travel, said a joint release by Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan and his visiting Japanese counterpart, Mr Toshimitsu Motegi, on Thursday (Aug 13).
The first track, called a "residence track", will provide for a special quota of cross-border travel by work pass holders with the necessary public health safeguards - including a 14-day stay home notice upon arrival in the respective countries. The ministers welcomed ongoing negotiations on the setting up of this track as early as September.
The second track is a reciprocal green lane-otherwise known as a "business track"- where short-term business travellers will be subject to a controlled itinerary for the first 14 days, with the necessary public health safeguards.
The ministers agreed on major points of this track, and tasked officials to finalise the agreement by early September. This would make Singapore one of the first countries with which Japan will begin this exchange of business travellers.
Mr Motegi, who is in Singapore for an official visit from Aug 12 to 14, called on and was hosted to lunch by Dr Balakrishnan on Thursday. He also paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana.
Mr Lee noted that Mr Motegi is his first foreign visitor since the pandemic led to entry restrictions and border closures, and they had a good discussion on how both sides can do more together.
Japan is one of several countries with whom Singapore is setting up such "green lanes" to allow essential travel to resume, with safety precautions in place.
"We are proceeding cautiously, as Covid-19 is still very much a threat. But this will be an important step forward in restoring connectivity between countries, and adjusting to life with Covid-19," said Mr Lee.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said both leaders affirmed the close and longstanding relationship between Singapore and Japan, and exchanged views on regional and international issues. They also discussed how the two countries can work together to promote greater economic integration in the region through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
"Prime Minister Lee welcomed Japan's continued engagement with Asean, and agreed that Singapore and Japan can further strengthen cooperation amid the Covid-19 pandemic such as the facilitation of cross-border essential business travel in a safe manner for both sides," added the ministry.
MFA also said that Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Motegi had a good discussion on regional and international developments.
"They agreed on the importance of ensuring supply chain connectivity, modernising international trade rules for the digital economy, and forging partnerships to promote 'vaccine multilateralism' amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic," it added.
Japan currently bans all foreign nationals from 146 designated countries and regions, but had said in late July that it is looking to work together with 12 Asian economies, including Singapore, on ways to resume travel.
Mr Motegi became the first Japanese Cabinet minister to travel abroad since February when he made a four-day visit to London last week to iron out the fine print of a new economic partnership agreement between his country and Britain.
He is scheduled to leave for Malaysia on Friday (Aug 14) and is also due to visit Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar from Aug 20 to 25.
The Straits Times understands that Mr Motegi will have to take a Covid-19 test before leaving and returning to Japan as a countermeasure against the disease.
His entourage will also be kept to the bare minimum and he will travel by chartered plane.