SINGAPORE: With a third of the planet under lockdown, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing told CNA that Singapore “certainly can expect some disruption” to its supply chains.
And delays in food deliveries are already happening following the restricted movement order taking effect in Malaysia.
But Mr Chan called on Singaporeans to have every confidence that the Republic can last the distance in the coronavirus pandemic, given the “tenacious” efforts and advance planning to secure the country’s food supplies.
“Some of the vegetables might be in a bit later. Some of the eggs might come in a bit later,” he told the programme Talking Point for an episode that aired on March 26 on Channel 5. (Watch it here.)
“We’ve been able to have other sources ... make up for what’s been disrupted on the Malaysian side. So, by and large, I think the impact on the local markets hasn’t been significant.”
Singaporeans may have to adjust some of their food purchases by, for example, switching from fresh vegetables to frozen or canned vegetables.
But overall in the main food categories like carbohydrates and protein, Mr Chan reassured the public that there is a sufficient stockpile to “last us quite a while, for us to continuously source for alternative sources”.
There is no need for panic buying, he added as he also spoke publicly for the first time about the audio leak of his comments on some shoppers’ reaction to Singapore raising its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level from yellow to orange previously.
'COMBINATION OF STRATEGIES'
While this is not the first time Mr Chan and other ministers have pointed to Singapore’s national stockpile and diversified supply chains, the tightening border restrictions around the globe are posing a “daily challenge”, he acknowledged.
“Some of the products that require a bit of manufacturing capabilities will be a bit delayed. Some of the supply chains in terms of transport in other countries are also being disrupted, so that might add some delay,” he cited.
“We must have a plan B, if not a plan C and plan D.”
While not going into specifics for strategic reasons — to safeguard Singapore’s bargaining position — he outlined in broad strokes how the government is responding.
For example, while Singapore’s stockpile is generally planned on the basis of a “local short-term contingency”, the authorities have since reviewed the numbers “to take into account the potential disruption to supply chains worldwide and also for a longer period”.
“Every item across the entire table of essentials” is being looked at, and that goes beyond food. Among the things kept in stock are medicines and personal protective equipment.
Not only have supplies been replenished, but some orders — such as for multivitamin pills — were also increased more than a month ago in anticipation of possible disruptions.
Mr Chan noted that although some countries have shut their borders to human traffic, they want to remain open to the movement of goods. And Singapore has strategic partners working together to ensure this.
For example, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Myanmar, New Zealand and Singapore issued a joint statement yesterday to affirm their commitment to ensuring supply chain connectivity.
On a question of food subsidies, he replied: “It isn’t a sustainable way to do such things, because the subsidies would be creamed off by the foreign suppliers.
“There’s no good way to artificially suppress price.”
Helping the Republic’s food importers to diversify their supplies “is perhaps even more important than just subsidising food from a single source, which we can always be held ransom to”, he added.
In the case of vegetables, for example, Singapore has “opened up supply lines” beyond Malaysia, to places like Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Taiwan.
“It’s a very tough job, especially now,” he said. “They must be very tenacious in going out to secure those supplies for us.”
He acknowledged that “we may have to pay slightly more as we diversify”, but Singapore’s “combination of strategies” to keep prices affordable also include ensuring that there are some local production capabilities, notwithstanding constraints like land and manpower.
ABOUT THAT AUDIO LEAK INCIDENT
Mr Chan also identified one other thing the country must do for as long as the pandemic lasts, and that is to “share”.
“If each of us hoards ... then you’d certainly jack up the prices. And it would also allow others to charge us more when they see us panicking,” he said.
This is one of the reasons it “hurt” him to see some people “succumb” to panic buying, which gave “a very bad name to all fellow Singaporeans”.
He had given vent to his feelings on this during a closed-door meeting with members of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. His comments were then leaked in an audio clip that went viral.
A month on from the incident, he acknowledged that runs on supplies have also happened in other countries and that this public reaction stems from fear in the face of uncertainty.
But he wants Singaporeans to “distinguish themselves” from the rest of the world in the midst of the pandemic.
“That’ll give others confidence to say that, next time, when they deal with Singaporeans, they’re dealing with a different breed of people: People who are calm, people who are united, people who have a broader sense of perspective,” he said.
“I don’t know whether it’s achievable in the short term, but ... we must try because it’s an opportunity for us to do that. Otherwise why would other people want to do business with us, and why would other people have confidence in us?
"You might fault me for it, but I guard this very jealously — the survival and continued success of our country."
He hopes Singaporeans will feel that they are not alone in this fight against the coronavirus disease 2019, and that they remember the more vulnerable people in society.
“We need to have as many Singaporeans stay calm as possible, and have these fellow Singaporeans help the rest of the Singaporeans who are less confident to overcome their fears,” he said.
“If we can do that collectively, then we’d emerge as a stronger people, rather than having to fear that we have to overcome this individually.”
Watch more of the interview here. Talking Point is telecast on Thursdays at 9.30pm on Mediacorp Channel 5.