Saturday, 12 June 2021

The 3Cs of Racism in Singapore: CECA, COVID-19 and Culture clash

Fighting racism means calling it out, in public and online, rather than shrugging it off to keep up the pretence of getting along.
By Chua Mui Hoong, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2021

Racism has been much in the news after a video was widely circulated of a Chinese man scolding an Indian man, who was out with his girlfriend, for preying on Chinese girls. The Chinese man was heard on video calling their relationship a disgrace and saying they should date within their own race.

Mr Dave Parkash, 26, is of Indian-Filipino descent and his girlfriend Jacqueline Ho, 27, is half-Thai and half-Chinese Singaporean. The encounter was filmed by Ms Ho and made public by Mr Parkash, and rapidly went viral.

This came after an incident last month, when a Singaporean Indian woman out exercising with her face mask on that left her nose uncovered, was asked to wear her mask properly, and then reportedly kicked in her chest by a Chinese man uttering racial slurs.

Many have spoken up against these incidents, which are being investigated by the police.

Watching the latest video, I wondered what was on the Chinese man's mind when he accosted Mr Parkash thus in public. If you listen to his words, he appears to be making an assumption that many other Chinese Singaporeans will agree with him - that it is a disgrace to date outside one's race.

What struck me was not his sentiment - many of us would have heard similar comments on social media, or from relatives and friends. What struck me was how such bigoted views, once privately expressed in closed groups, were being expressed in public. As Irish writer Oscar Wilde observed, hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue, so keeping mum on one's private bigoted views at least acknowledges the virtue of social norms that frown on the expression of such unsavoury views.

That the lecturer felt able to confront Mr Parkash publicly with his own bigoted views made me wonder if he felt others in society would agree with him.

That was what made me uncomfortable - the realisation that in Singapore, we may be creating a social environment where people think it is acceptable to mouth racist words and to chide those from minority communities for failing to conform to certain expectations.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who has been quick to call out such racist incidents in the past, shared on his Facebook page: "I used to believe that Singapore was moving in the right direction on racial tolerance and harmony. Based on recent events, I am not so sure anymore."

Are things getting worse? If so, what has changed, and how did we get here?

The 3Cs: CECA and COVID-19 and culture clash

Several forces converge to expose existing fault lines on race.

First is the CECA factor. Short for the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, CECA is a free trade agreement between Singapore and India that eases the movement of goods, services and people between the two countries, allowing for easier business travel and for intra-company transfers. It has been blamed for facilitating the entry of Indian migrants to compete for jobs with Singaporeans.

Sociological theories on racism include a view that racism springs from resource competition. In this view, prejudice towards another race is due to competitive pressure for jobs, status or political power.

Friday, 11 June 2021

Singapore to ease COVID-19 curbs in two phases from 14 June 2021

Gradual Re-opening to Phase 3 (Heightened Alert)
Group sizes upped to 5 from June 14, dining in to resume from June 21
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2021

Tighter measures currently in place to reduce the spread of Covid-19 will be eased progressively from next Monday (June 14).

In a statement on Thursday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said Singapore will gradually reopen and move to phase three (heightened alert) in two steps.

Here are the key announcements.

1. Cap on social gatherings to be raised from two people to five from June 14

The current two-person limit on group social gatherings will be raised to five from next Monday.

The same two-person cap on the number of unique daily visitors to a household will also be raised to five.

MOH said such gatherings should still be limited to small groups of regular contacts, to reduce the likelihood of transmission. Groups of up to five per room will be allowed for hotel stays, up from two currently.

It advised the public to limit the number of social gatherings to no more than two a day.

2. Event size and capacity limits to be raised from June 14

Attractions, cruises, museums and public libraries will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent of their normal capacity from June 14, up from the current 25 per cent.

Event sizes will also be increased, and live performances and spectator sports events will be allowed to resume.

Events such as movie screenings at cinemas, events in the Mice (meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions) industry, worship services and marriage solemnisation outside the home will be able to resume with up to 250 attendees, if pre-event testing (PET) is conducted.

For marriages, the cap includes the wedding couple but not solemnisers or vendors.

Solemnisations held at home will be allowed for groups of up to five visitors, excluding members of the hosting household, or up to 10 attendees in total, whichever is higher.

PET will not be required for events with 50 or fewer attendees.

From Monday, personal care services which require masks to be removed, such as facials, will be allowed to resume.

But unmasking and singing or playing wind instruments, as well as wedding receptions with dining in, can resume only from June 21.

3. Dining in only from June 21

Dining in at food and beverage (F&B) outlets may be allowed from June 21, if the situation remains under control.

These are considered high-risk settings, MOH said.

It reminded F&B establishments to strictly observe 1m safe distancing between groups of diners.

Groups must also be limited to five people, and patrons must wear their masks at all times except while eating and drinking.

Wedding receptions will be allowed for up to 100 attendees - a number which includes the couple but not the solemnisers or vendors - with PET in place for all attendees.

PET will be required for only the wedding party of up to 20 attendees if the reception has 50 or fewer total attendees.

4. Gyms, sports and tuition classes to resume from June 21

From June 21, fitness studios and gyms may resume activities which involve removing one's mask, with safe distancing of at least 2m between individuals (even within a group) and 3m between groups of individuals.

Sports classes, both indoors and outdoors, will be limited to 30 people, including the instructor, and groups must consist of no more than five people.

In-person tuition and enrichment classes for those aged 18 and below may also be allowed to resume from June 21. These include classes involving singing or the playing of wind instruments.

5. Working from home remains the default; targeted support measures to continue

Employers must ensure that employees who can work from home continue to do so even as Singapore reopens gradually, MOH said.

This is so overall footfall and interactions in public are kept low, thereby reducing the risk of infections.

For those who need to return to the workplace, their start times should be staggered and they should be allowed flexible working hours.

Employers will still not be allowed to cross-deploy workers to multiple work sites.

From June 21 to 30, the affected sectors will receive 10 per cent JSS support.

The Covid-19 Driver Relief Fund for taxi and private-hire drivers will also be extended for three more months.

This will be set at $300 per vehicle each month for the first two months, and $150 per vehicle for the third month.

6. Regular testing for staff in higher-risk activities and sale of self-test kits

Regular testing will be implemented for staff working in F&B establishments with dining in, personal-care services requiring the removal of masks, and gyms or fitness studios where customers are unmasked.

The "fast and easy" testing regime will, for example, use antigen rapid tests (ART) for all staff regardless of vaccination status.

ART self-test kits will also be sold at retail pharmacies such as Guardian, Unity and Watsons from June 16.

More details on these kits will be available from June 16, the MOH said.

Sales will initially be limited to 10 kits per person.

7. Vaccination bookings for those aged 12 to 39 to begin on June 11

Singaporeans aged 12 to 39 will be able to register online for vaccination and book an appointment from Friday.

MOH said the booking link may take up to two weeks to be sent to those who register, as more appointment slots for vaccination open up when more supplies arrive.

The rest of the resident population will be invited to register in the coming months.

Those who had earlier recovered from Covid-19 infection are recommended to receive just a single dose of the vaccine, MOH said.

This is because those who have recovered in the last six months are likely to still have strong immunity.

Children under the age of 18 will require parental consent to book an appointment.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Cleaners in Singapore to see wages increase over 6 years from 2023 under progressive wage model

Move set to benefit 40,000 workers across 1,500 cleaning businesses in Singapore
By Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2021

Cleaners will see their wages continue to go up each year from 2023, over six years, after proposals by a tripartite committee on the cleaning wage ladder were accepted by the Government yesterday.

From 2023 to 2028, the base wages of Singaporean and permanent resident cleaners across all job levels will increase each year. This will benefit about 40,000 cleaners across about 1,500 cleaning businesses in Singapore.

The first adjustment in 2023 will see base wages of general and indoor cleaners increase by, for example, almost 20 per cent from $1,312 next year to $1,570.

The move is meant to narrow the income disparity between cleaners and other workers. Under previous updates to the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) in 2016 and 2018, cleaners were slated to get 3 per cent annual wage increases from last year to next year.

The latest wage increases were among new recommendations made by the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC), after it conducted another round of reviews of the model.

The PWM, a ladder that sets out minimum pay and training requirements for workers at different skill levels, was launched in the cleaning sector by the TCC in 2012. It has been a compulsory condition since 2014 for the licensing of cleaning companies.

The TCC - which comprises representatives from the labour movement, industry, service buyers and the Government - also recommended having cleaners trained in workplace safety and health protocols by the end of next year.

This is to ensure their personal safety when carrying out cleaning tasks, especially in the light of increased cleaning demands due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Employers should also send cleaners for one of the core Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) modules identified by the TCC for their relevant job levels.

The PWM training guidelines had earlier required that all resident cleaners attain the minimum two WSQ certificates next year.

With the latest recommendations, cleaners will have until December next year to complete the two modules.

Ms Phyllis Lim, deputy director of the National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) U Care Centre, which supports low-wage workers, said in a press statement yesterday that training class sizes have been reduced to adhere to Covid-19 safe management measures.

"The new timeline is to allow sufficient time for cleaning businesses to comply with the training requirements... By the end of 2022, they should be able to send their cleaners (for the modules)."

Another recommendation was that beyond 2025, cleaners in lower job rungs must complete one additional module, while those in higher job rungs must complete two extra modules.

The list of WSQ training modules has been updated, and will periodically be updated to ensure its relevance, the TCC said.

The Ministry of Manpower, National Environment Agency, SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore said in a joint statement yesterday that the recommendations will "ensure significant wage growth and skills upgrading for cleaners, and develop a more competent and productive cleaning workforce".

They said: "Together, our collective whole-of-society efforts will uplift our lower-wage workers."

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said in a Facebook post: "I am glad that many of us are more aware of the value of work our cleaners do... Pandemic or not, uplifting the lives of our lower-wage workers matters to us."

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Singapore planning for a new normal of living with endemic COVID-19: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Test, Trace and Vaccinate.

Plans for new normal with people living with virus in their midst
PM Lee sketches scenario where Singaporeans can go about their daily lives with an endemic disease
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

Singapore is planning for a new normal, where its people can carry on with their lives while the virus is in their midst, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Addressing the nation in a live broadcast, PM Lee sketched out a scenario where people will be able to go to work and meet their friends, take part in large-scale events such as concerts, and eventually even go around without masks outdoors.

Singapore is still "some ways off from this happy state, but we are heading in the right direction", said PM Lee.

The country will get there if people continue to work together, such as by keeping up vaccination rates, taking annual booster shots and getting tested for Covid-19 often.

Before that, Singapore must raise its game and adjust its strategies in the next chapter of the fight to deal with the more infectious variants of the coronavirus that have emerged, PM Lee said as he outlined the nation's adjusted three-pronged strategy.

This means people have to get used to routinely being tested for the virus at different settings such as offices and shopping malls, with such tests set to get used more proactively and extensively.

The other two parts of the strategy are casting a wider net during contact tracing to isolate close contacts more quickly, and an accelerated national vaccination programme that prioritises first-dose vaccinations.

"If we stay united and continue to work together, we will be able to progressively open up and achieve our aim," he said.

While the global pandemic will eventually subside, Covid-19 is likely to become an endemic disease that is not fully eradicated among humans, said PM Lee.

This means that Singapore must expect to see small outbreaks of the disease here from time to time, he added.

"Our aim must be to keep the community as a whole safe, while accepting that some people may get infected every now and then."

The way Covid-19 will be managed will then be closer to the way the common flu or dengue fever is tackled, through public health measures and personal precautions.

As in the case of the flu, regular vaccinations could be part of the strategy, he said.

In the new normal, testing for Covid-19 will also be more frequent, but it will be fast and easy, he added.

For instance, suitable tests can be rapidly deployed before a football game or a wedding reception, providing assurance to participants that the event is Covid-19-safe.

Those whose occupations involve close contact with many people that could result in superspreading events will also be tested more routinely, said PM Lee. These include cabbies, bus drivers, fitness instructors and teachers, alongside those who are already on rostered routine testing such as construction workers and those who work at shipyards, air and sea ports.

Different Covid-19 tests that are now available include antigen rapid tests, saliva tests, breathalysers and even DIY kits that can soon be bought over the counter, PM Lee noted.

Living with endemic Covid-19 also means the country does not completely close its borders, he added.

"We need food, essential supplies, workers, business and other travellers to keep on flowing. We must stay connected to the world, with effective safeguards and border restrictions to keep Singaporeans safe," he said.

"We will not be able to prevent some infected persons from slipping through from time to time. But as long as our population is mostly vaccinated, we should be able to trace, isolate and treat the cases that pop up, and prevent a severe and disastrous outbreak."

Singapore's priority now is to get through the pandemic and position itself strongly for the future even as the virus continues to rage around it, said PM Lee.

He pledged that the country will emerge tougher and more confident than before, having experienced and overcome Covid-19 together as one nation.

"In this new normal, the countries which are united, disciplined and put in place sensible safeguards will be able to reopen their economies, reconnect to the rest of the world (to) grow and prosper," said PM Lee.

"Singapore will be among these countries."

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Singapore planning for possible future where COVID-19 is endemic: Lawrence Wong

$800 million COVID-19 support package for Singapore firms and workers, including more wage subsidies, rental relief during Phase 2 (Heightened Alert)
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 May 2021

Singapore has started planning for the possibility that Covid-19 may become endemic here, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

This could mean Singaporeans will need to get booster jabs from time to time, he noted.

In the coming months, better treatments could also be developed for the disease, making it less of something to fear, he added at a virtual media conference.

But even then, the country may have to take basic precautions - for example, with regard to ventilation systems and buildings - to minimise the risk of infection.

"When will it happen? I really can't say," Mr Wong replied in response to a reporter's question on when the virus will be considered endemic here.

"But we are indeed planning for a plausible scenario down the road where scientists around the world... come to the conclusion that it is not going to be possible to eradicate this virus - it is never going to go away, and we then have to learn to live with it."

The minister was speaking at a media conference to announce extra help for individuals and businesses impacted by the tightened measures on social interaction. The $800 million package of support measures will be debated at the next Parliament sitting in July.

At the virtual event, Mr Wong was asked how Singaporeans might go about their daily lives in the coming years, given that it seems difficult to picture the current restrictions on mask wearing and social gatherings lasting for a long time.

"I can't even predict what is going to happen next month," he replied. "So, I don't know that it is so easy to tell you what is going to happen years down the road because the situation is really very uncertain."

$800 million COVID-19 support package to help firms, workers
It includes enhanced wage subsidies, rental relief, one-off payouts to eligible workers
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 29 May 2021

Announcing the measures yesterday, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said affected gyms, fitness studios, and performing arts and arts education centres will get 50 per cent of salary support for local employees under the JSS - the same as what food and beverage operators are currently receiving.

Sectors that do not have to suspend operations but are significantly affected by the measures will get 30 per cent of JSS subsidies.

This will help retailers, personal care service providers, museums, art galleries, historical sites, cinemas, indoor playgrounds and other family entertainment centres.

However, supermarkets, convenience stores and online retailers will not be eligible for the enhanced wage support.

Rental relief will be given to eligible small and medium-sized enterprises as well as non-profit organisations in qualifying commercial properties, Mr Wong said.

Eligible lower-and middle-income workers and self-employed workers whose income has been affected can also receive a one-off payout of up to $700 under a new temporary grant.

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) said yesterday that the enhanced JSS payouts, which are based on wages paid from April to next month, will be disbursed in September.

Employers who put local employees on mandatory no-pay leave or retrench them will not be eligible for JSS payouts for those employees, MOF said.

"I would encourage businesses to make full use of their enhanced JSS to retain and pay their workers during this period," said Mr Wong.

Instead, they will be funded through a reallocation of spending.

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

More CPF members topped up savings in 2020 amid COVID-19 uncertainties

Almost 40% jump in CPF members who topped up savings in 2020 compared with 2019
By Calvin Yang, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 May 2021

More people sought to tap the benefits of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) last year to stretch their savings amid the pandemic's uncertainties.

The number of members who topped up their own or their loved ones' CPF retirement savings was nearly 40 per cent higher last year, compared with 2019.

At the same time, people who made voluntary housing refunds nearly tripled over the same period, according to the latest CPF Board figures.

Also slightly up is the proportion of members who died last year and had specified a recipient for their CPF savings.

It is no surprise that more people are channelling more cash into CPF accounts, observers told The Straits Times, since they are now realising the benefits of using the scheme to save.

Last year, some 141,130 CPF members made top-ups under the Retirement Sum Topping-Up Scheme, contributing a total of $2.97 billion.

In 2019, only 103,800 members grew their CPF funds under the scheme. Total top-ups in 2019 were also lower at $2.14 billion.

Meanwhile, about 14,980 members made voluntary housing refunds last year, putting in a total of $1.48 billion.

This involves members who had used CPF savings to pay for their property choosing to make a refund of the amount withdrawn.

In comparison, only 5,500 members did this in 2019, with a total of $513 million being refunded.

OCBC Bank's head of wealth advisory Kelvin Goh said CPF funds offer members more attractive risk-adjusted returns, compared with regular savings accounts and even some investments.

The higher take-up rate is likely boosted by the lower interest rate environment and market volatility brought about by the pandemic, said DBS Bank's head of financial planning literacy Lorna Tan, noting that the trend of CPF top-ups is expected to continue.

The Retirement Sum Topping-Up Scheme allows members to use cash or CPF savings to top up their own or their loved ones' accounts.

For recipients under 55, the Special Account can be topped up to the current Full Retirement Sum, which is $186,000 this year.

Those aged 55 and older can have their Retirement Accounts topped up to the current Enhanced Retirement Sum, which is $279,000 this year.

Mr Wilson Loy, Standard Chartered Bank Singapore's head of investment advisory and strategy, said another factor for the increase could be the tax reliefs granted for topping up CPF accounts.

CPF members can get tax reliefs of up to $7,000 per calendar year for top-ups made to their own accounts, and up to another $7,000 for top-ups made for their parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, grandparents-in-law, spouse and siblings.

Monday, 24 May 2021

The virus of racism must not spread in Singapore

Linking race to the COVID-19 virus is against the social DNA of our multicultural society.
By Asad Latif, The Straits Times, 22 May 2021

A vicious attack on an Indian Singaporean woman, because she was not wearing her mask properly (she was brisk-walking), reveals the nefarious relationship between race, fear and violence that has been generated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The incident is the most egregious of several instances of unsavoury behaviour involving ethnicity and disease in the wake of a new strain of Covid-19, rampant in India, which threatens to stigmatise Indians, whatever their nationality.

Of course, race is not the only variable in this unseemly equation. Some employees at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, which is at the forefront of efforts to fight Covid-19, have faced discrimination from members of the public.

Not all of the hospital's employees are Indians.

Here, then, is the first variable: Fear. An infectious disease socialises the individual fear of death that exists anywhere, all the time. A contagion broadcasts the fear of untimely and unwarranted death.

It amplifies the fictive distinction between "soft death" and "hard death" which the American writer Susan Sontag demystifies in her 1989 book Aids And Its Metaphors. Soft death supposedly comes easily; hard death is hard to bear.

"The metaphorised illnesses that haunt the collective imagination are all hard deaths or envisaged as such," she writes.

Thus, the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (Aids), seen as leading to a hard death, became a "mythological menace".

Attack on nativist collectivity

Mythology nests in threatened territory. Territoriality is the second variable. Sontag suggests that a disease becomes a metaphor when sufficient members of a society view it as an external attack on their nativist collectivity.

The sexual promiscuity associated with the provenance of Aids in Africa was viewed as an attack on the moral and biological integrity of Western society, which imported the supposed curse because of its openness to the rest of the world.

Black Africa became the Aids-producing continent, while the white West became the geographical victim of a foreign disease. Aids was stigmatised in racialised terms.

Something very similar has occurred with Covid-19. Its origins led to it being called the Wuhan virus and even the Chinese virus, terms that signalled the identification of a disease with a place and even an ethnicity.

No wonder Chinese were insulted, harassed or attacked in several countries. They did not have to be from Wuhan or even the rest of China: All that they had to do was to look Chinese.

That was sufficient to rationalise their racist victimisation.

Now it is India's turn.

The Indian strain is seen as an Indian product, as if any country specialises in the creation and export of a virus.

Just as the suffering of the Chinese in Wuhan and other cities was ignored by racists in the West, who were interested only in apportioning ethnic blame, the epic struggles of Indians to fight the scourge today are ignored by those who see every Indian, or "Indian-looking" person, as a potential carrier to be shunned.

Singapore's social DNA

It is unacceptable that such sentiments should have any place in multiracial Singapore. The social DNA of this nation is multicultural.

Friday, 21 May 2021

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the inaugural Global Forum on Economic Recovery 2021

Singapore cannot slacken in COVID-19 efforts, global cooperation is key: PM Lee
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 May 2021

Singapore cannot afford to slacken in its effort to keep Covid-19 in check as the virus will rear its head in new and unimaginable ways, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

While the country has kept its number of Covid-19 deaths low at 31 and is in a stable position, it is "far from out of the woods", with a fresh superspreading cluster leading to tightened restrictions and gathering rules again, he added.

"Each time you think you have got the Covid-19 situation under control, and you know how to respond to it, it pops up in a new direction," he said.

"It can be a mutant, it can be a new avenue which you did not spot, but you cannot afford to slacken, and you must always think beyond what you imagine is likely to happen."

PM Lee was speaking on Wednesday (May 19) at the US Chamber of Commerce's inaugural Global Forum on Economic Recovery, which brings together government and business leaders to discuss opportunities and barriers to global recovery.

In a virtual fireside chat with US Chamber executive vice-president Myron Brilliant, he said Singapore's prior experience with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003 helped it handle the coronavirus pandemic.

"That primed our system to gear up for a next new disease, and primed our population to understand what was at stake and what kind of collective responses we needed," he said.

There were 38 new Covid-19 cases reported in Singapore as at noon on Wednesday, 18 May, including 34 in the community, taking Singapore's total to 61,689.

The pandemic also reminded everyone of the importance of international cooperation, which has largely held up, added PM Lee.

"There was a scramble for PPE (personal protective equipment) at the beginning, there is a scramble for vaccine doses now, but internationally, supply chains have not broken down. You can still buy iPhones made in any number of countries, you can still buy cars, which require parts from many continents."

He noted that the world has not taken "giant strides towards autarky", meaning "total self-reliance". Nor can a small and open country such as Singapore afford to seal its borders off.

"Protectionism? Yes. Autarky? No. That is a qualified plus.

"Other bigger countries can (close their borders), to a very great extent. For Singapore, you need food, fuel, people moving in and out, even during Covid-19. You have to do it to the extent that you can, while keeping ourselves safe with all the precautions... Not without risk, but unavoidable."

PM Lee also said it would be a long way off before countries can open up completely again and have free travel. While countries talk about travel bubbles, this needs confidence on both sides, and Singapore wants to set up bubbles only with countries which are safer than itself, he added.

"That means it is not easy to make a match. But I hope that as societies get vaccinated, and as confidence returns and the disease gets brought under control, that will be possible."

The air travel bubble to allow for quarantine-free travel between Singapore and Hong Kong was deferred for a second time on Monday, after a spike in cases here.

PM Lee said that globally, it is not just India that is in a very difficult spot now, but also Latin America and even Africa, where many have not been vaccinated, though the number of reported cases are low.

"We are very anxious that what has happened to the rest of the world will not befall Africa too, which would have consequences not just on that continent."

Stressing the need for global cooperation to mitigate supply chain disruptions, he warned that it would be "very harmful" for every country to make everything onshore.

While there is greater desire to have more resilience, if that goes too far, the price will be very high, he said.

"You can have the final assembly of your devices in your own country, but to make all the components yourself is a stretch. And to get all the raw materials yourself, in most cases, it is going to be impossible.

"You cannot even make vaccines all by yourself. You do need not just the raw materials, but also the bottles, the bottle stoppers, all sorts of things which come from all around the world."

He said he was happy that the current US administration is re-engaging with the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and urged the US to work multilaterally with more partners to establish trust and rules that apply to everyone.

"The WTO has weaknesses, but we should work together to remedy and strengthen the WTO, not to marginalise and cast it aside.

"That is at the top level, but there will be many other areas of cooperation regionally."