Haslinda Amin (Bloomberg): The third and final day here at the New Economy Forum in Singapore and of course, how we emerge from the pandemic and vaccines are among the themes here. Singapore is among the countries that are trying to reopen, but slowly slowly, they say. Domestically, COVID curbs remain very strict. Our next guest has defended the policy, saying it is necessary to ease pressure on the city's healthcare system. Let us bring in Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry, Gan Kim Yong. He is also Co-Chair of the business hub’s Multi-Ministry Taskforce on COVID-19. Minister, good to have you with us. Good morning.
Minister Gan: Good morning. Very good to be able to talk to you.
Haslinda: Strict curbs continue, Minister. What is the sense you are getting on the ground about the cautious reopening of the country?
Minister: Thank you very much. In fact, we are still in this Stabilisation Phase. But the fact that we are able to host this Bloomberg New Economy Forum in the midst of this Stabilisation Phase is a very important marker. It reflects our ability to manage the situation and contain the infection while we continue with our lives and continue with economic activities and gradually open up. The Forum is one of our pilots, and if it is successfully conducted, we are hoping that we will then be able to roll out more of such events and continue our journey towards COVID resilience. One important factor to consider is the fact that we have actually ramped up our vaccination rate to above 85% for the whole population. I think this is a key strategy. We have also started to roll out a booster programme for the more vulnerable. This will allow us to open up progressively and safely.
Haslinda: You talk about stabilisation. This Stabilisation Phase is meant to run through 21 November. It is just days away. Given that there is a sense of stability and infection rates are pretty stable as well, can we expect those restrictions to be removed?
Minister: We are looking at the situation very carefully. As you know, we are very cautious, particularly about our healthcare capacity. The situation has more or less stabilised and we are hoping that we will be able to make some review and see whether there is an opportunity for us to make some adjustments. But the next few days are very critical. We will still have to continue to monitor (the situation) because we have just opened up very recently to allow members of the same household to dine together. We will still need a few more days to observe the trends to make sure that the situation remains stable. And if so, I think we will have an opportunity to make adjustments to our safety measures.
Haslinda: As it stands now, though, Minister, do you expect the virus curbs to persist beyond 21 November?
Minister: As of today, it is very difficult to say because it is still too early. Some of the effects of our recent opening – allowing the same household to dine together - still have not been fully seen. So, it is important for us to watch (the situation) very carefully over the next few days, before we take a quick review and decide whether there will be adjustments come 21 November.
Haslinda: Singapore has been pushing ahead with a Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme. Are more expected in the coming weeks or days?
Minister: In fact, this is part of the progress towards COVID resilience. As we ramp up our vaccination, we will be able to open our borders and allow more people to come to Singapore, and allow Singaporeans to go overseas. The VTL is one key strategy to allow vaccinated individuals to travel, without the need for quarantine. We started (the scheme) with Germany and Brunei – I talked about it the last time I was on the show – and we are beginning to roll this out to a lot more countries, including Europe, the US as well as Australia. Progressively, we are planning to extend this VTL to more countries as the situation improves.
Haslinda: Will that include Asian countries like Japan, for instance? Can you name some of the countries that you are potentially establishing the VTL with?
Minister: We are looking at quite a number of countries, including our neighbours – both Malaysia and Indonesia – and we are also exploring the possibility of having this VTL with countries like Korea and Japan. But it also depends on the situation – both in Singapore as well as in the destination country – whether they are prepared and ready to open up to Singapore and the region.
Haslinda: When it comes to Malaysia, though, Minister, the question is really when you open up the land border control. Is there a sense when that might happen? Malaysia has suggested it could happen by the end of the month, but nothing yet from Singapore.
Minister: We are optimistic. Between Singapore and Malaysia, the officials are working very hard to work out the details because, as you would appreciate, the land link is more complicated than the air link since it is a lot more porous. Therefore, the immigration system has to be put in place and we have to also find a way to segregate those who are vaccinated and those who are not, since the VTL is meant for those who are vaccinated. So, there is a lot of logistics that needs to be managed on the ground and we are in close discussions with our Malaysian counterparts, and I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to do so quite soon.
Haslinda: Might it happen on 29 November?
Minister: There is a possibility, and we are hoping that we will be able to announce our launch date shortly. So, be patient with us. I know many Singaporeans in Malaysia are wanting to come back and, be patient with us.
Haslinda: Minister, I would like to touch on trade. We are talking about bottlenecks, the supply chain disruptions. How long do you think that may last?
Minister: I think it would take a while.
Haslinda: Could you quantify “a while”? How long can you see that happening? Will it persist through 2022, perhaps?
Minister: I think it may take all the way to the second half of 2022, before we are able to ensure that the bottlenecks are cleared because there is some backlog that we will need to clear, and at the same time we are seeing demand rising very rapidly. So I think, as we emerge from COVID-19, it will take time for the machinery to start to move, and you need to put lubrication and make sure that the gears are engaged, so it will take a while for the whole machinery to return to normalcy.
Haslinda: Minister, one of the issues is chip manufacturing. We now have the US demanding more data from countries on chip manufacturing. What is your sense? There has been dismay among the countries in the region.
Minister: I think we will need to continue to work with our major economic partners, including the US, to see how we can smoothen the supply line for products, including chips which are very critical for the manufacturing process. And that also underscores the importance for us to ensure supply chain resilience. I have talked about it several times. In addition to onshoring some of this production base, it is also important for us to ensure there is diversity in terms of sources of supplies, and it is also useful for us to go towards digitalisation of our trading arrangements, so that many of these data and information will be available much more easily, because with digital transactions, many of these will facilitate trade, including products as well as chips.
Haslinda: The US is pushing for a new economic framework, beyond the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). What do you make of that? Does it make sense?
Minister: We had a very good discussion on this topic with Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo when she was here. We wanted to explore the opportunities for the US to re-engage in the Asia Pacific, and this will be an important platform for that to happen. Singapore is very happy to be able to be part of it. It is still early days. Many details need to be worked out, and our officials are working together with the US and a few key partners to see how we can work on a basic framework. Then, we will have more details, more concrete ideas, to be able to discuss this with our partners in this region. It has to be something that is inclusive and flexible, so that we are able to have greater participation. It will be quite an ambitious plan, but we may need to take a step-by-step approach so that we are able to reach our destination eventually. So, our officials are working with like-minded partners to see how we can come up with some basic framework so as to facilitate our discussion with other interested parties.
Haslinda: On CPTPP, we know that both China and Taiwan are wannabe members of that grouping. Is it likely that both will be included in the CPTPP, or is there a risk that Taiwan may be hindered by China?
Minister: Well, Singapore welcomes any economies who are interested in participating in the CPTPP because it is important for the CPTPP to be inclusive. Both Taiwan and China have indicated their interest. I think we will need to go through the accession process, and discuss with the various members of the CPTPP. As you know, the CPTPP works on consensus. And we will have to make sure that a consultation is done so that we are able to reach a consensus on whether or not to accede to the application. At the same time, economies that are interested to apply must also ensure that they are able to meet the highest standards of requirements of the CPPTPP. Therefore, we would like to encourage those who are interested to consult bilaterally as well so that they are able to address the views, concerns and interests of the respective parties. This way, the process will then be able to be facilitated.
Haslinda: Minister, as we emerge from this pandemic and try to address the issues of supply chain disruptions, there is a risk that globalisation may take a backseat and regionalisation comes into effect. That may mean high costs for companies. Your take on that.
Minister: I think this is a reality that we have to face up to. But, it is also important for us to remember that, as we try to be regionalise or onshore many of our activities in order to ensure that we are resilient, costs may go up because it is less than optimal. Therefore, there will be a point at which companies and businesses will realise that it is not possible to onshore or regionalise everything. So, it is still very important to ensure resilience in the global supply chain. It is also important to work with our key partners to see how we can further strengthen supply chain resilience. And in this particular area, I think Singapore has an important role to play. Being a hub for business, for travel, for logistics, for supply chains, Singapore will be able to play a role as a key node in the global supply chain to ensure that the various links are connected to preserve the connectivity of this region as well as the world. That is also why, even during the pandemic, we have ensured that our connections remain open, our ports remain operational, our air links remain connected, so that we can help to facilitate supply chain resilience.