COVID-19: ASEAN should have guidelines on imposing travel or trade restrictions, says PM Lee

SINGAPORE: To build resilience for future economic shocks, countries in the region should have common criteria on travel and trade restrictions, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Apr 14).

"It would be useful for ASEAN to have a set of common criteria or guidelines on when to impose travel or trade restrictions, and when and how we can relax them and with what appropriate safeguards," he said at a virtual Special ASEAN Summit on COVID-19.



"We each have our own domestic considerations, but clear guidelines would help us take a balanced, rational approach that takes into account both health and economic considerations."

The ASEAN Coordinating Council Working Group on Public Health Emergencies should study this issue, he added.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks to leaders in the region via video conference during a Special ASEAN Summit on COVID-19 on Apr 14, 2020. (Photo: MCI)

Mr Lee and Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan joined the summit via video conference on Tuesday morning. The summit convened by Vietnam, the ASEAN chair for 2020, was chaired by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.



Mr Lee said that the crisis will "fundamentally change globalisation", as he predicted controls on movement of people across borders and that governments will intervene to prevent over-dependency on other countries for food, medical products and other essential goods.

ASEAN countries should therefore do their best to build cooperation and trust with one another, he said.

"We must resist the temptation to turn inwards and away from one another."

The 10 ASEAN countries have reported at least 20,000 COVID-19 cases in total, but the number is likely to be higher given the lack of testing capability in some areas. Countries have imposed measures to restrict the movement of residents, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

READ: COVID-19: Crowds, minor infractions on first working day after social restrictions imposed in Jakarta

READ: Singapore reports record 386 new COVID-19 cases and another death

Mr Lee emphasised that ASEAN countries should maintain trade among themselves and persuade their partners to keep trade flowing. Malaysia and Singapore have kept goods flowing although Malaysia has extended its movement control order to Apr 28 and Singapore is in circuit breaker mode until May 4.

"Many of us also export goods and agricultural products overseas. Closing our borders completely would therefore only deprive us all of goods and products that we can produce together, hurting our economies and worsening unemployment," he said.

He proposed that the regional bloc should still aim to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this year and should also continue pursuing the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement with the European Union.

"Dealing with the immediate crises, while not losing sight of the longer-term objectives is the best way to enable our economies to survive this crisis, and to bounce back after COVID-19 passes," he said.

READ: Singapore, China agree to strengthen cooperation to address global COVID-19 threat

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