WASHINGTON - Singapore is working on establishing a Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) with the United States and wants to conclude it as soon as possible, certainly before the end of the year, said Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong.
He was speaking to an audience at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington on Thursday (Oct 7).
This follows successful VTL pilots with Germany and Brunei, he said.
"We are also continuing to facilitate the arrival and return of American work pass holders from the US to Singapore, so that your companies can operate at full strength," he added.
Mr Gan is on a four-day trip to the US, during which he will also be in New York.
He told the audience at the US Chamber event that Singapore recognises the need to strike a balance between saving lives and protecting livelihoods.
Close to 85 per cent of Singapore's population is fully vaccinated, with a majority of new Covid-19 cases experiencing mild or no symptoms, he said. The death rate remains low.
Singapore is also offering booster shots to seniors; and encouraging widespread testing and making available self-administered test kits for early detection, he said.
"With these measures in place, we plan to safely open our borders in a calibrated and concerted manner," Mr Gan said.
"As a hub for business and travel, it is important for us to remain connected to the rest of the world."
The VTL scheme was launched in Singapore on Sept 8 with Brunei and Germany taking part for a start.
Fully vaccinated travellers under the scheme will take up to four Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction tests in lieu of serving a stay-home notice.
They must also have stayed in Brunei, Germany and/or Singapore for the last 21 days prior to embarking on a journey.
While in Washington, the minister is due to meet, among others, US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
He will be signing a Partnership for Growth and Innovation with Secretary Raimondo.
"Under that initiative, the digital economy is one of four key pillars...that we will work on together," Mr Gan said in a speech at the Chamber.
On the broader economic front, Mr Gan said Singapore and the US can cooperate in three key areas - supply chain resilience, the digital economy, and the climate crisis.
Covid-19 exposed the vulnerabilities of global supply chains, with lockdowns disrupting production and cutting off supply sources, leading to global shipping delays and freight price increases.
"We must not only keep supply chains open, but also ensure that they can withstand future disruptions, from pandemics or other crises," Mr Gan said. "To achieve this, global cooperation is essential."
Even at the height of the pandemic, Singapore was one of the few countries which maintained free flow of goods and services and did not impose export controls, including on masks and PPE, to the US.
Singapore can play a strategic role in maintaining diverse and adaptable supply chains, he added. Its strong global connectivity makes it a resilient hub for countries and companies to anchor their supply chains.
"Singapore and the US will hold a high-level bilateral dialogue on supply chain resilience...to continue this important conversation," said Mr Gan.
He noted that the pandemic had accelerated the transformation of the digital economy.
South-east Asia's digital economy is projected to triple in size to US$300 billion (S$408 billion) by 2025, he said.
"Singapore is investing in digital infrastructure to enhance our capabilities in the digital economy, and encouraging our businesses and people to adopt new digital solutions and skills," he added.
"We are also collaborating with like-minded international partners through Digital Economy Agreements, to create a conducive, secure, and enabling environment for our businesses and workers to access opportunities.
"Growing the digital economy would help guard against the digital divide, enabling growth for services trade, and benefiting companies of all sizes, especially small and medium sized companies."
On the threat of climate change, Singapore was also a strong supporter of multilateral action, and saw opportunities for businesses to reinvent themselves and stay relevant, he said.
"Those who can quickly embrace sustainability will in fact reap first-mover advantages," he said. "We… want to work with partners to shape a sustainable future together through Green Economy Agreements."
"We are keen to partner the US in this effort," he said.
"Singapore and the US have shared a robust and enduring friendship… underpinned by shared values, especially the importance of global stability and a rules-based international order which enable countries to prosper together" Mr Gan added.
"Today, the US is Singapore's largest foreign investor and third largest goods trading partner," he said. Singapore is the US' second largest investor from Asia "Singapore's imports and investments account for over a quarter of a million jobs in the US," Mr Gan said.
US businesses should support free trade and economic integration in the region, he said.
"Opportunities abound, but we must work fast and work together to seize them, especially when the benefits of free trade and economic integration are now being questioned."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.