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Singapore has built food resilience with buffer stocks and diversified sources to cope with disruptions: PM Lee

Singapore has built its food resilience with buffer stocks and by diversifying its sources, so that it can cope when any single source is disrupted, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (May 27).

Speaking to media at the end of a four-day working visit to Tokyo, Japan, Mr Lee was replying to a question on how Singapore will be responding to other countries’ export bans – and if it will seek redress at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

He said the answer to such a situation “is not what we do now, but what we have been doing now for several years, which has been to build up our buffer stocks and our resiliency, and diversify our sources”.

“So that (when) any single source is interrupted, we are not unduly affected. And if you can't buy chicken from one place, you can buy chickens from other countries.”

He added: “This time it is chicken, next time it may be something else. We have to be prepared for this.”

Describing the world as “very unsettled”, Mr Lee acknowledged ongoing issues of inflation and high costs of living. But he also said “many more disruptive things can happen than just some price adjustments”, adding that some of these are already playing out. 

Mr Lee also said that a country can seek redress at the WTO if any rules have been violated, but this will be a long process – and securing the supply of food is an immediate urgency.

He also said it was “regrettable” that countries have begun raising export controls, as this adversely impacts Singapore, a consumer country that imports food.

But he added that it is “not so surprising” that such things happen. Presently, food supply chains are being disrupted because of the Ukrainian war and inflation is also high, he said.

“So governments are under pressure and sometimes they take unconventional measures. For example, interdicting exports of products, and several governments have done this.”

ECONOMIC ENGAGEMENT “NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE”

Mr Lee was also asked about Singapore’s response to claims by China that the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), a United States-led pact, is a strategy to create “divisions”.

Singapore has signed up to the IPEF, which was launched on Monday.

In response, Mr Lee said economic engagement between the US and the region, and China and the region, should both very much be encouraged.

He noted that Singapore supports China’s Belt and Road Initiative and is also a member of the Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative, put forward by the Chinese.

At the same time, Singapore has cooperation arrangements with the US – now, including the IPEF, Mr Lee said. The IPEF aims to promote economic cooperation, and its membership is meant to be “inclusive”, he added.

“So I do not see that the two are mutually exclusive, or just because one side is deepening its cooperation, that means it is bad for the other side.”

JAPAN’S ROLE IN REGIONAL SECURITY

In his speech at a conference on Thursday, Mr Lee also said Japan can “make a greater contribution to regional security cooperation”, if it comes to terms with its past.

When asked to elaborate on this, Mr Lee said countries must work together to secure collective security, but in Japan’s case, this is “particularly sensitive because of the war history”.

The best way Japan can fulfil its growing imperative to play a greater role in regional security is to “(put) to rest the historical issues which have been open for a long time”, said Mr Lee.

“How is that done? It depends on the bilateral relations with individual countries and Japan’s overall posture and its ability to demonstrate that it is adding value to the regional security situation.”

The country is already engaging in bilateral exercises, trainings and visits, and participating in regional defence and security dialogues, such as the Asean Regional Forum (ARF), he noted.

Mr Lee also said that in Southeast Asia, the relationships are “progressing”, but in Northeast Asia, Japan’s relationship with Korea is “difficult” – even more so with China.

“Nevertheless, I think the Japanese do understand that these are permanently their neighbours, and they need to do their best and they will do their best to try to have a working relationship co-existing with them.”

JAPAN’S RE-OPENING TO TOURISTS

On the topic of Japan’s reopening to tourists, Mr Lee reiterated that the country is starting off with a very small group.

 “It is just a very tiny experiment but I am quite sure after that, as they work out their procedures, they will open up further.”

He noted there may be political considerations involved, as the local population has been “very sensitive” about COVID-19 cases increasing.

Mr Lee also said that he told Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that there are many Singaporeans who are “very anxious” to return to Japan again for holidays.

But there is an upper house election taking place in July, Mr Lee said, adding that the Japanese government “would not want to make any precipitated moves before that”.

“But after that, if the COVID situation is stable, I think there is a good chance that we will be able to resume the flow.”

Recapping his meeting with Mr Kishida, Mr Lee also said they discussed the recent agreements signed by both sides, as well as cooperation within the IPEF.

They also talked about broader developments in the world, including US-China relations.

“It was a good discussion and we had a very lively exchange and I hope that before long I will be able to invite Prime Minister Kishida to Singapore and we can continue the conversation.”

Source: CNA/cl(gr)

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