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Concluding Remarks by BFA Director and Former Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Wong Kan Seng at the Launch of the BFA 2020 Flagship Report & Symposium on Asian Development Prospects and Challenges under the Pandemic (Full Text)
Origin:Boao Forum for Asia      Time:2020-05-14 19:29:41    Views:169

(May 8, 2020)

 

Thank you very much!

Good afternoon,

BFA Vice Chairman Mr Zhou Xiaochuan,

BFA Secretary-General Mr Li Baodong,

Distinguished participants,

I thank you for inviting me to participate at today’s launch of the BFA 2020 Flagship Report, and the Symposium on Asian Development Prospects and Challenges under the Pandemic.

We are meeting in very unusual times, under very unusual circumstances.  Meeting online has now become the norm for in-country and cross border meetings. 

CONTAINING THE VIRUS COVID-19 AND ITS IMPACT

The speed and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact in Asia and around the world show how vulnerable we humans are. It also reflects the interconnectedness and interdependence of our “global village”.

COVID-19 is the gravest public health crisis that mankind has ever  faced in the last 100 years.  The number of confirmed cases globally has crossed the grim milestone of more than 3.5 million cases and 250,000 deaths. These statistics underscore the cruel reality that COVID-19 has no regard for national borders, nor does it discriminate against nationalities, social-economic classes, race or religion.

There is so little we understand about this highly contagious virus. We will leave it to epidemiologists and scientists to uncover more about the virus, and let historians write about it in the future. It is too soon to make any definitive determination of the virus spread. Each country will have time to do its post-crisis review and learn lessons from it, so as to prepare for the next pandemic.

The central mission of all governments is to contain the virus’ impact and to protect and preserve lives of their citizens. Governments have adopted drastic measures to protect the people’s health and well-being. 

But as a result, practically all economic activities within the countries and with their economic counterparts have been choked. Livelihoods have been upended, causing chaos to businesses and workers across the world. It is a very tough trade-off to make between public health and economic activity.

Stringent containment measures have severely affected many sectors and imposed significant costs to our economies. Travel restrictions have led to massive losses for the tourism and airline industries. Production lines are forced to operate at a fraction of normal capacities, if the factories are allowed to open at all. Aggregate demand has fallen drastically as people stay home and curtail spending.

Now, even as countries begin to gradually lift containment measures when the situation shows signs of improvement, it will still be a long road ahead to complete recovery. Governments around the world have planned to spend trillions of US dollars to keep workers on their jobs and businesses alive. Still these stimulus measures may not prevent a world recession.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected that global real GDP growth in 2020 is estimated to fall to minus 3 percent. The World Bank’s growth outlook for Asia has been sharply downgraded, with some ASEAN Member States potentially falling into recessions that could push more people into poverty.

We have heard nothing but bad news about COVID-19 in the last few months. The only good news is that it can be contained, as countries like China, New Zealand and Vietnam have shown.

The key challenge in front of us is whether this global pandemic is a wake-up call for the international community to act in concert to fight this common enemy and to build a safer world, or to accelerate de-globalization in parts of the world already beset by raging nationalism?

It is very important at this juncture that we do not shut our doors and turn inwards, when collective global action is crucial to combatting COVID-19 and to our post-pandemic recovery.

MAINTAINING GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAIN CONNECTIVITY

Disruptions to our integrated global supply chains will exacerbate the health and economic crises that we are experiencing. Countries should maintain open and connected supply chains, to enable the flow of essential goods and services. These include the flow of medical supplies and equipment that are urgently needed by countries battling COVID-19, as well as the flow of other essential goods, including agricultural products.

Countries should also refrain from imposing export restrictions and prohibitions, tariffs, and non-tariff barriers, particularly on essential goods. To support the viability and integrity of global supply chains, it is also important to ensure critical infrastructure and services, such as air and seaports and freight services, remain open.

G20 leaders have issued statements signalling their joint commitment to combat COVID-19 and to ensure the continued flow of essential goods and services across borders. Leaders from ASEAN, ASEAN Plus Three – China, Japan and the ROK – and other ASEAN Dialogue Partners like the EU and the US have jointly called for greater regional and international cooperation and strengthened efforts to combat COVID-19. Singapore and ten other countries have also issued a Joint Ministerial Statement to affirm our commitment to ensure supply chain connectivity, amidst the COVID-19 situation.

ENHANCING INTER- AND INTRA- REGIONAL ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL COOPERATION

As we head towards a global recession, more than ever, we need regional and global cooperation to ride out the challenges arising from COVID-19, and ensure that financial markets do not seize up. Our collective efforts at the regional and international levels will better position us to emerge stronger thereafter.

In each of our economies, we need measures to ensure financial stability, address short-term liquidity needs, and provide credit and support. Globally, support from the IMF’s crisis response package, and the emergency response packages by the World Bank Group and Regional Development Banks are critical. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s (AIIB) introduction of the COVID-19 Crisis Recovery Facility worth US$10 billion is also timely.

Looking ahead, countries must work with the IMF and other international financial institutions to ensure a more resilient financial architecture for financial stability, and enact growth-friendly policies and prepare for future shocks. 

Governments should ensure that our fiscal policies encourage growth and innovation, and accelerate digitalization. They should redouble efforts on integrated surveillance to head off vulnerabilities, before they grow into the next crisis.

CONCLUSION

Ladies and gentlemen, only with solidarity and cooperation can the international community prevail over the pandemic and safeguard our future. It is critical for governments to mount a united response.

globalization has helped to raise standards of living for many. At the same time, it exacerbated the rich-poor gap and wealth disparity, which is one of the root causes turning some countries to look inwards and reject globalization.

The solution is not protectionism and isolationism, but equitable social redistribution policies to ensure that economic growth is shared fairly by all. COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis will have implications for globalization as we know it. Countries will naturally become wary of the risks of globalization and want to strengthen national capabilities to reduce dependence on others. A more hard-headed internationalism may arise. The world as we know it before COVID-19 will not be the same.

But we should resist the urge to discard globalization completely, because isolationism will result in a poorer world for all of us.

The pandemic is proof of our interdependence, not an indictment of globalization. It highlights the need for more cooperation among countries, not less.

It will not be easy to find the right balance, but I am confident that by staying open and connected, we can emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient than before. We should bear in mind that no country can truly be safe until the world is safe.  But we will get over this crisis.

Meanwhile, I wish all of you stay safe and stay healthy. 

Thank you very much!

 

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