Trans-Pacific trade bloc vows to keep supply chains open amid crisis

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CPTPP members, including S'pore, also agree to limit restrictions

Ministers from a trans-Pacific trade bloc have agreed to fight protectionism and avoid food and medicine shortages during the coronavirus pandemic, they said in a joint statement published on Wednesday.

"We are committed to ensuring that supply chains remain open and connected... which plays an instrumental role in avoiding food shortages and ensuring global food security," it said.

The 11-member Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), comprises Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

It represents 495 million consumers and a combined gross domestic product of US$13.5 trillion (S$18.5 trillion), according to the Canadian government.

The members also pledged to "facilitate the flow of essential goods and services during the pandemic, including medical supplies and equipment".

They affirmed a commitment to free trade and to limit restrictive measures despite the pandemic.

"We strongly believe that given the current circumstances, it is more important than ever to counter protectionism," the statement said.

The pandemic has exacerbated a trend towards protectionism, with European countries taking steps to favour domestic investments, and the ongoing sabre-rattling between the US and China.

Lockdowns around the world have also temporarily shattered the web of suppliers central to modern manufacturing.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing (left) said the pandemic has shown the importance of robust trading relationships and need for countries to deepen economic cooperation and integration for businesses and workers to tap on opportunities in other countries.

"As a regional trade agreement, the CPTPP plays an important role in strengthening the region's connectivity and making supply chains more resilient and less vulnerable to shocks. It also opens up access to the regional markets for our goods and services and creates new pathways for business growth."

He added: "This will help to lessen the adverse impact of the pandemic on businesses and lead to job opportunities for our workers. It is critical for all of us to commit to translate what has been agreed on into tangible benefits for our people and markets."

Mexican Economics Minister Graciela Marquez said in her speech that inaugurated the meeting: "I am convinced we must take action to strengthen existing regional supply chains and to develop new ones" in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement soon after he took office in 2017. Other countries want in, including Britain, which wants to strike new trading partnerships after leaving the European Union. - REUTERS, THE STRAITS TIMES