By THE NATION
So far, cooperation ranges from exchange of information and best practices, provision of medical supplies and equipment, trainings for medical professionals and personnel, and the recent establishment of the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund, which was initiated by Thailand.
“Three months after COVID-19 became a global pandemic, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai came up with the idea to set up an ASEAN fund as a mechanism to promote cooperation among its members to tackle the outbreak,” she said.
“This idea was endorsed by the ASEAN Leaders at the Special ASEAN Summit on COVID-19 in April and now the Fund is already operational, ready for ASEAN Member States to tap on in the fight against COVID-19. The project is taking concrete shape.”
The rationale of the Fund is to utilise existing funds in ASEAN, including cooperation funds with Dialogue Partners, while being open for voluntary contribution from ASEAN Member States and other external partners, to address the unprecedented COVID-19 challenges in the region.
“Cooperation funds with Dialogue Partners are usually used for programmes and projects to enhance cooperation between ASEAN and the concerned Dialogue Partners in areas such as cultural or media exchanges.” she said. “But at a time like this, the utilisation of these funds can be refocused and reprioritised to promote cooperation and contribute to the regions’ efforts in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. As a token of our commitment, Thailand was also the first country to make a voluntary contribution of US$100,000 to the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund.”
During the 53rd ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meetings and Related Meetings in September, several Dialogue Partners expressed their interest to support the Fund.
“China, Japan and the Republic of Korea announced that they will donate $1 million each, with Australia pledging A$1 million. During the ASEAN-UK Ministerial Meeting later on, the United Kingdom also pledged another £1 million,” she said.
“The Fund is open for any ASEAN Member State to come up with project proposals that help them tackle the COVID-19 outbreak, such as purchasing necessary medical equipment, surgical masks, personal protective equipment [PPEs] or conducting research and development on COVID-19 treatment and vaccine,” she said. “Thailand’s Public Health Ministry is also working on its proposal.”
DG Usana added that Thailand has provided 1 million sanitary face masks and PPEs to Myanmar last month as part of cooperation among ASEAN Member States.
“At the same time, ASEAN is also working on bolstering regional economic cooperation amid the pandemic, with a focus on preserving supply chain connectivity in the region, maintaining food and energy security, and strengthening economic stability and resilience in the long term.” she added.
During the 37th ASEAN Summit last week, the leaders launched the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework which focuses on the region’s comprehensive recovery strategy on public health, as well as social and economic aspects in the long term.
“For Thailand, we attach great importance to helping SMEs, who are the backbone of ASEAN’s economy because SMEs account for over 80 per cent of all businesses and create more than 90 per cent of the region’s employment,” said DG Usana. “The Prime Minister is concerned about the recovery of SMEs who are among the sectors hardest-hit by COVID-19, and recognises the need to ensure that SMEs have access to funding to maintain their liquidity and get through this crisis. This idea has been incorporated in the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework.”
Another aspect that was focused on during the ASEAN Summit was the ‘ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement’, which will set out a framework to facilitate essential business travel among ASEAN Member States. This is to ensure uninterrupted economic activities during the period of restricted international travel.