JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News): President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo called for an immediate implementation of an Asean travel corridor on Monday (Oct 25) ahead of the bloc's summits, in order to speed up economic recovery as confidence grows in Covid-19 outbreak control.
The President is meeting leaders from eight other Asean nations and their dialogue partners for the 38th and 39th Asean summits virtually this week, hosted by Brunei Darussalam as this year’s chair of the regional organisation.
The three-day summits will begin Tuesday (Oct 26), and leaders are expected to discuss the implementation of the Asean Travel Corridor Arrangement Framework after launching a declaration about it in November last year.
First proposed by Jokowi in June last year, the travel corridor is aimed at facilitating essential business travel that implements strict health protocols. At the last Asean Summit in November, Jokowi expressed his wish that the framework could be implemented in the first quarter of this year, but the second wave of coronavirus infections that swept the region, exacerbated by the more transmissible Delta variant, have delayed its implementation.
At the peak of the second wave, Indonesia saw more than 56,000 daily new cases in July, with more than half a million active cases, grinding its health system to a halt. Other South-East Asian countries, including Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, also battled record infections and deaths.
“We have seen new hope in the last week as Covid-19 cases in the Asean region fell by 14 per cent, much better than the world average at 1 per cent,” Jokowi said on Monday at the Asean Business and Investment Summit, which was held ahead of the Asean summits.
He argued that Asean's performance increased its internal and external confidence to resume activities and accelerate economic recovery, while still maintaining vigilance. One of the steps toward recovery was to reactivate travel, he said, citing World Tourism Organization data that the level of restrictions in South-East Asia was the highest in the world at 82 per cent.
“With the increasingly controlled Covid-19 situation, these restrictions can be reduced, mobility can be relaxed, while ensuring safety from pandemic risks,” Jokowi said.
Starting earlier this month, Indonesia has gradually opened Bali to vaccinated tourists from 19 countries with strict health protocols after more than 84 per cent of the island’s population was fully vaccinated.
Indonesia plans to gradually open up other areas where the vaccination rate exceeds 70 per cent.
Meanwhile, Thailand has announced that it is reopening Bangkok and other top destinations like Pattaya, Hua Hin, Krabi and Chiang Mai to vaccinated tourists from 45 countries, Reuters reported.
Regional recognition of vaccine certificates and interoperability of vaccine systems must be carried out immediately, Jokowi said.
The implementation of a regional travel corridor framework could be Asean’s “quick win”, said World Bank’s managing director of development policy and partnerships Mari Elka Pangestu.
“Two-thirds of Asean tourism is intra-Asean,” she said in a panel discussion, which was part of Monday’s business forum.
“So if you can actually revive intra-Asean mobility or tourism and temporary workers with a vaccine passport and testing system, [...] I think you would have a good boost in terms of reviving the economy.”
Furthermore, she said trade facilitation through the Asean Single Window -- a platform that would allow exchange of trade documents digitally -- could play a role in streamlining the processing of goods and services across borders, which in turn could provide a big boost to the region’s economic recovery.
Jokowi is scheduled to participate in 13 meetings in the three-day virtual Asean events, before leaving for Rome to attend the Group of Twenty Summit for the official handover of the group’s presidency on Sunday.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Indonesia is set to begin its G20 presidency in December. After the G20 Summit, Jokowi will leave Rome for Glasgow, Scotland, for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).
He also plans to go to the United Arab Emirates to witness the signing of a multi-billion dollar investment on infrastructure, energy and renewable energy, health, telecommunication and tourism.