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Singapore, 6 other Pacific countries pledge to keep trade, supply chains going during Covid-19 crisis

SINGAPORE and six other Pacific Rim countries have pledged to keep their supply chains open during the Covid-19 pandemic, despite ongoing shocks to trade flows.

“We recognise that it is in our mutual interest to ensure that trade lines remain open, including via air and sea freight, to facilitate the flow of goods including essential supplies,” the trade ministers of the participating countries said in a joint statement released on Wednesday.

In the statement, the leaders of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Myanmar, New Zealand and Singapore have affirmed that it is important not to impose export controls or tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and to remove restrictions on essential goods - especially medical supplies.

Their latest statement used language from an earlier bilateral pledge between Singapore and New Zealand, which said jointly on March 20 that they would ensure supply chain connectivity amid the global spread of the infectious disease.

According to a spokesman for Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), Singapore, New Zealand and Chile have since worked with other countries to express an intent “to facilitate trade flows, especially in essential supplies, and refrain from trade restrictions during this time”.

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The wider group of ministers reiterated that they are committed to working with like-minded countries on unimpeded trade, with critical infrastructure such as air and seaports to stay open.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, one of the statement’s signatories, later wrote on Facebook that “I’m happy to announce that Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile and Myanmar have come on board this initiative”.

“This will greatly boost our efforts to maintain open and connected supply chains which are needed to facilitate the flow of goods, especially essential supplies. We welcome more countries to join us in this endeavour,” Mr Chan wrote.

Saying that Singapore will lead efforts to bring like-minded partners together to uphold trade and supply chain connectivity, he added: “Countries must band together and unite in this fight against the virus instead of making decisions that threaten global trade.

“The decisions that are made today will have a lasting effect on the global economy when the situation stabilises. While the short-term challenges are real and severe, as responsible governments, we must continue to keep an eye on the future and what it will bring for our businesses and people after the virus has been defeated.”

Around the globe, the perilous Covid-19 outbreak has prompted various economies to set export curbs on a host of goods, including masks in Taiwan and pharmaceuticals in India.

The European Union also moved in mid-March to restrict the sales of personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and goggles, outside the continental trading bloc.

But the MTI spokesman, who cited how medical equipment is often made with supply chains that span borders, said: “We must ensure that component and raw materials can flow unimpeded and efficiently, so that global supplies of essential goods can be continually replenished.”

Calling trade connectivity “a critical pillar in our ability to respond effectively and efficiently to the Covid-19 situation”, the spokesman added that the Republic hopes for participating countries to agree to tackle trade disruptions, especially in essential goods, and avoid export controls.

The MTI spokesman noted that amid the Covid-19 crisis air freight capacity has dropped sharply, with volatile increases in freight charges, while sea cargo faces port restrictions and even closures.

Now, even as governments roll out containment measures for the deadly disease, the spokesman said that “countries should also uphold trade connectivity amidst the challenging circumstances”.

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