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Australia, NZ should work with Asean to resume travel safely: Lee Hsien Loong

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Mr Lee also called for cooperation in the development and supply of Covid-19 vaccines.

[SINGAPORE] The gradual resumption of travel will enable economic recovery and spur confidence in businesses in South-east Asia, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday, as he urged Australia and New Zealand to lift restrictions on Asean countries.

Speaking at separate virtual dialogues between the regional bloc and the two countries, PM Lee said that both sides should work towards "progressively and safely lifting travel restrictions", with the Covid-19 situation stabilising.

He also called for cooperation in the development and supply of Covid-19 vaccines, and in economic recovery by upholding a rules-based system with open supply chains.

"The reopening of our borders in a safe and calibrated manner will facilitate the resumption of economic activity, and is an important confidence marker for our peoples and businesses," Mr Lee said during the second Asean-Australia Biennial Summit.

In the Asean-New Zealand Leaders Summit, he said Singapore has lifted border restrictions to allow visitors from Australia and New Zealand, and hopes the two countries will do the same soon.

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To enable a new normal to emerge from the pandemic, he said countries have to work together to ensure "an equitable, effective and sustainable supply of treatments and vaccines".

The prime minister noted that Singapore, Australia and New Zealand support "vaccine multilateralism" and are Friends of the Covax Facility.

The Covax, or Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access, scheme aims to provide Covid-19 vaccines for the 76 countries involved, along with 92 other poorer countries supported under the scheme.

"We should complement that with cooperation in vaccine research and development, and by building up our vaccine manufacturing capacities to support regional demand," said Mr Lee during the meeting with New Zealand.

On economic recovery, he reaffirmed Singapore's commitment to abide by "a free, open and rules-based multilateral trading system and maintain supply chain connectivity", and cited Sunday's signing of the 15-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership as a major step forward.

He also cited the joint ministerial statement issued by Singapore and New Zealand on March 20 which affirmed commitment to ensuring supply chain connectivity amid the pandemic, and said that more countries, including Asean member states, have since supported the statement.

PM Lee called for all parties to press on with the General Review of the Asean-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the most comprehensive FTA Asean has concluded to date and which can be "a pathfinder for future FTAs".

During the meeting with New Zealand, he also congratulated Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her "resounding victory" in the recent general election.

Ms Ardern's Labour Party won the Oct 17 election with the biggest victory in half a century, gaining an outright majority in Parliament.

In his speech, PM Lee said the Asean-New Zealand relationship has progressed steadily over the past 45 years.

The two have been strategic partners since 2015. They have successfully implemented all action lines in the Asean-New Zealand Plan of Action of 2016 to 2020, and have finalised the Plan of Action for the next five years.

Asean and Australia have been strategic partners since 2014, and have completed all the action lines in the first Asean-Australia Strategic Partnership Plan of Action which ended in 2018, Mr Lee said during the meeting with Australia, which was attended by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

"Now that we are facing the common scourge of Covid-19, Australia has been a reliable partner. Our officials and ministers have been in close touch throughout the year, including through the Special Asean-Australia Foreign Ministers' Meeting on Covid-19 convened in June," said Mr Lee.

He added that Australia has supported Asean's pandemic response and recovery plans, such as by contributing to the Covid-19 Asean Response Fund, other initiatives in health security, economic recovery and stability, and through the Asean-Australia Development Cooperation Programme Phase II.

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