Countries must be careful not to become protectionist, says PM Lee

Mr Lee was speaking at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, held in Kigali, Rwanda, on post-COVID recovery.

Supply chain shocks caused by COVID-19 have led to an “unfortunate experience” for countries and shaken their faith in globalization, Lee said.

“Countries are now emphasizing self-sufficiency, shifting from just-in-time production to just-in-case precautions,” he said.

“Such a response is understandable, but we have to be very careful not to take it to extremes or become protectionist. It is impossible for a single country to produce everything it needs on its own, at any cost.

Countries like India and Indonesia have banned wheat and palm oil exports to prioritize domestic sourcing, while closer to Singapore, Malaysia has partially lifted an export ban on chicken.

“Excessive ‘offshoring’ or ‘friends offshoring’ could lead to increasing economic fragmentation, make us less safe rather than safer, and make us worse,” Lee said.

“We must not give up the pursuit of win-win economic cooperation and interdependence. Instead, we must work towards a more resilient form of globalization.

Mr Lee cited trade mechanisms such as the African Continental Free Trade Area in Africa and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in Asia – which includes almost a third of the world’s population – as “practical means” for countries to to improve cooperation.

“We must continue to promote such regional initiatives, even as we pursue the more difficult path of global multilateral cooperation,” he said.

PREPARING FOR ANOTHER PANDEMIC

Mr Lee said the world needed to do “much more” together to improve pandemic preparedness.

This includes reforming the World Health Organization, among other things, to develop an “effective international surveillance system” capable of detecting the emergence and spread of new pathogens and viruses, he said.

“In the meantime, we need to strengthen each country’s public health response capacity,” Lee said, pointing out that people in many developing countries are still not adequately vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to a March article on the United Nations website, while the total number of vaccines administered worldwide has increased “dramatically”, so has the inequality of distribution. Of more than 10 billion doses distributed worldwide, only 1% was administered in low-income countries.

“Logistical constraints and challenges in public health responses have made it difficult for these countries to deliver gunshots,” Lee said.

Mr Lee said fixing these issues will take years of “patient effort”.

“So we need to start now, build capacity and better prepare for the next pandemic,” he added.

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