Smaller nations urge digitalisation, sustainable recovery

People cross the street in Singapore's Orchard Road shopping district in June 2020.
People cross the street in Singapore's Orchard Road shopping district in June 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

A group of foreign ministers from 30 small and medium countries, including Singapore, on Wednesday stressed the need for the international community to build on the momentum from the Covid-19 pandemic to speed up technological development and digitalisation.

This will make countries better able to withstand future shocks, said the members of the Global Governance Group (3G) who also reiterated their support for an environmentally sustainable and inclusive recovery, in line with the Paris Agreement, as a crucial element of future resilience.

"The 3G ministers strongly welcomed the G-20's continued efforts in advancing the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including climate action, with a focus on supporting developing countries in their implementation efforts," said the ministers in a press statement released by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the 3G's 13th ministerial meeting.

The 3G is an informal coalition of 30 states, which include Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Finland, New Zealand, Qatar, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

It was formed in 2009 to influence the Group of 20 (G-20) countries to take into account the interests of smaller countries affected by its decisions, and is regularly represented at its summits.

Wednesday's ministerial meeting, which was held over video conference, took place on the sidelines of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, which is being held almost entirely virtually this year due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

During the meeting, other issues - such as the importance of facilitating technology transfer and narrowing the digital divide, as well as the importance of maintaining open supply chains globally - were also discussed.

Concerns over intensified protectionist tendencies and continued trade conflicts were also raised, with the ministers noting that these could exacerbate the economic crisis and hinder recovery.

To this end, a universal, rules-based, open, transparent, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) should be promoted, said the ministers.

Trade-restrictive emergency measures aimed at protecting health, if deemed necessary, should be targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary, and be consistent with WTO rules, they added.

The various measures endorsed by the G-20, including strategies such as trade regulation and facilitation; the provision of support for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as building resilience in global supply chains, are much appreciated, noted the ministers.


They also said they welcomed the G-20's efforts to reach out to non-G-20 members to reflect a "broad and inclusive range of international interests and perspectives".

The 3G also commended Saudi Arabia - which holds the G-20 presidency for this year - for its leadership in galvanising international efforts to address the challenges posed by Covid-19, and said it looked forward to continuing the partnership with the grouping under Italy's presidency next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2020, with the headline 'Smaller nations urge digitalisation, sustainable recovery'. Subscribe