Singapore and Japan agree to resume essential business travel; officials tasked to finalise agreement by September: MFA

SINGAPORE: Singapore and Japan have agreed to resume essential business travel, with an agreement expected to be finalised by early September, the two countries said on Thursday (Aug 13).

In a joint statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan and his Japanese counterpart Motegi Toshimitsu said they welcomed “ongoing negotiations” on the setting up of a special “Residence Track” as early as September this year.

This will provide for a “special quota of cross-border travel by business executives and business professionals (work pass holders)” with the necessary public health safeguards in place, including a 14-day stay home notice upon arrival in the respective countries, said the statement.

READ: Japan’s foreign minister to make official visit to Singapore from Aug 12

The ministers also agreed on the “major points” of the Business Track (Reciprocal Green Lane), in which short-term business travellers would be subject to a controlled itinerary for the first 14 days of their trip with necessary safeguards in place, added the statement.

“They tasked officials to finalise the agreement by early September 2020, with Singapore being amongst one of the first countries with which Japan will begin this exchange of business travellers,” it said.

Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan meets Japan's Motegi Toshimitsu
Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan meets his Japanese counterpart Motegi Toshimitsu on Aug 13, 2020. (Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore)

Singapore had announced last month that it would “work closely” with Japan to make progress on resuming essential travel between the two countries, after Japan said it would proceed with discussions on the resumption of essential travel with 12 places, including Singapore.

READ: Singapore will ‘work closely’ with Japan to make progress on resuming essential travel: MFA

Mr Motegi is in Singapore for an official visit from Aug 12 to Aug 14, his first official visit to Singapore as foreign minister. 

He called on and was hosted to lunch by Dr Balakrishnan on Thursday. He also paid a courtesy call to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana.

Mr Motegi and Dr Balakrishnan also discussed regional and international developments, said MFA in a separate statement. 

They agreed on the importance of ensuring supply chain connectivity, modernising international trade rules for the digital economy, and forging partnerships to promote “vaccine multilateralism” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong meets Japan Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Japan Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu on Aug 13, 2020. (Photo: Facebook/Lee Hsien Loong)

Meanwhile Mr Lee and Mr Motegi reaffirmed the “close and longstanding relations between Singapore and Japan”, and exchanged views on a range of regional and international issues, said MFA.

In a Facebook post on Thursday evening, Mr Lee said that Singapore and Japan were proceeding cautiously with the resumption of essential travel between the two countries.

“Japan is one of the countries with whom we are discussing setting up reciprocal ‘green lanes’ to resume essential travel with the necessary safety precautions,” said the Prime Minister. “We are proceeding cautiously, as COVID-19 is still very much a threat.”

“But this will be an important step forward in restoring connectivity between countries, and adjusting to life with COVID-19.”

Separately, Dr Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post that resuming essential business travel between the two countries was a “critical aspect” to restarting both countries’ economies in a “timely and safe manner”.

Mr Lee and Mr Motegi also discussed how Singapore and Japan can work together to promote greater economic integration in the region through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Mr Lee welcomed Japan’s continued engagement with ASEAN, and agreed that both countries could further strengthen cooperation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the facilitation of safe cross-border essential business travel for both sides, said MFA.

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