APEC must resist protectionist policies

Moving forward, APEC leaders need to lead the way in removing trade barriers to fight the economic impact brought about by the outbreak, says its secretariat ED


ASIA-PACIFIC Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies must not retreat into protectionism to combat the grave challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, its secretariat ED Tan Sri Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria said.

In a virtual briefing by the World Economic Forum and World Health Organisation (WHO) Western-Pacific region, Sta Maria said trade-restrictive policies would only hamper and delay recovery efforts.

“Moving forward, APEC leaders need to lead the way in removing trade barriers to fight the economic impact brought about by the outbreak.

“What we need now is an open trade policy to facilitate access to medical goods. At this time, it is important that we do not retreat into protectionist measures, instead support each other in this endeavour,” she said during the virtual media briefing.

Sta Maria believed most importantly, barriers on essential tools needed to fight the outbreak, including medical equipment, medicines, basic protective items and personal protective equipment should be removed.

Echoing her thoughts was WHO regional director for Western Pacific Dr Takeshi Kasai who said nations should not have to choose between health and livelihoods.

“We have to bring up both. We see a vaccine as a global public good, which belongs to everyone around the world,” he said.

Kasai said Western-Pacific countries have succeeded in preventing a devastating uncontrolled pandemic of the Covid-19 through stringent control measures.

“The key to control the virus in this region has been proactively finding and isolating the cases of Covid-19, tracing and quarantining the contacts, and introducing stringent public health and distancing measures, including movement control — comparatively early in the outbreak.

“They have averted what would have been devastating consequences in the uncontrolled epidemic. Hospitals have not been overwhelmed and many deaths have been prevented,” he highlighted.

However, control measures have had social and economic impacts on societies and livelihoods, particularly of the vulnerable groups of population, according to Kasai.

“We must also recognise that the socioeconomic cost of some of these control measures has been enormous, especially for the most vulnerable. “We are facing a profound complex challenge — how to control the Covid-19 in our communities, while at the same time bringing back our economies and societies.

“As long as the virus keeps circulating in the interconnected world, given the current absence of safe and effective vaccines, everyone remains at risk,” he added.

He also pointed to the need to find a way to live with this virus for now, qualifying this as “the new normal”.

“As there is no ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ to lifting lockdowns, we might not do it in a perfect way at the very start, but we all have to learn as we move,” he added.

Meanwhile, Grab co-founder Tan Hooi Ling said the Covid-19 is a “black swan event that shows how interconnected we are”.

She acknowledged that corporations need to take an expanded view of their role in society.

Tan also said the overall revenue of Grab has dropped since the pandemic began.

“It was mainly dragged down by the core ride-hailing business.

“However, we have seen an uptick in our food delivery business, but the total revenue is lower than it used to be pre-Covid,” she said, adding that the South-East Asian firm is preparing for “a potentially long winter”, taking measures to be more efficient and conserve cash.