Asian leaders make vow on trade and food supplies as coronavirus bites

Asian leaders make vow on trade  and food supplies as coronavirus bites
Leaders agreed to share resources and fight to limit damage to the region’s tourism and export-reliant economies at the ASEAN summit in Hanoi. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 15 April 2020

Asian leaders make vow on trade and food supplies as coronavirus bites

Asian leaders make vow on trade  and food supplies as coronavirus bites

HANOI: Southeast Asian leaders pledged to keep trade routes open to protect food supplies and stockpile medical equipment at a summit held online on Tuesday, as they warned of the crippling economic cost of the coronavirus.

Led by Vietnam — which chaired the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting — leaders agreed to share resources and fight to limit further damage to the region’s tourism and export-reliant economies.

But an emergency fund proposed by Hanoi to tackle the pandemic did not appear to have been given the go-ahead.

In a joint declaration, leaders committed “to keeping ASEAN’s markets open for trade and investment . . . with a view to ensuring food security.” They also pledged to cooperate to ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and diagnostic tools, as well as using “reserve warehouses to support the needs of ASEAN Member States in public health emergencies.”

China later said that it planned to set up a special fund to help ASEAN countries combat the pandemic, but declined to say how much money would be allocated.Following the summit — which was joined by leaders from China, Japan and South Korea — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also declared his support for a $5 billion recovery package proposed by the Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

“We welcome the AIIB’s proposal of a COVID-19 Recovery Facility with an initial capitalization of 5 billion US dollars,” Li said, according to state media.

In opening remarks via video conference, Vietnam premier Nguyen Xuan Phuc hailed the work of ASEAN in fighting the virus.

However, he warned that the disease “has badly impacted people’s lives, their socio-economic situation . . . challenging stability and social security.”

Vietnam has had some success in containing the virus through extensive quarantines and social distancing. It has recorded 265 infections and no deaths, while Thailand has also kept its numbers relatively low with just over 2,500 cases and 40 deaths.

The situation is mixed elsewhere across the region, with fears that limited testing in Indonesia has played out into the low caseload — and under 400 deaths — for the country of 260 million.

Similarly, threadbare health systems from Myanmar to Laos are widely believed to be missing the true scale of infections.

A recent surge in cases in Singapore has raised fears the pandemic could rebound in places that had batted back the initial outbreak.

Vietnam used the summit to propose funding to deal with the pandemic, an idea backed by both Malaysia and the Philippines.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte warned that he was “particularly concerned with food security.”

The whole region has been hit hard by the virus.

In Vietnam many factories are still running, but, in a sign of the ongoing risks, dozens of workers at a Samsung unit in the north were ordered into quarantine after one tested positive for the virus.

The Thai economy, the second-largest in ASEAN, is expected to shrink by 5.3 percent this year — a 22-year low.


Saudi PIF seeks investment flexibility with $5 billion-plus loan

Updated 04 December 2020

Saudi PIF seeks investment flexibility with $5 billion-plus loan

Saudi PIF seeks investment flexibility with $5 billion-plus loan
  • The loan finances are for use if and when the fund identifies investment opportunities 
  • PIF  is at the heart of the Kingdom’s strategy of economic diversification under its Vision 2030 reform plan

DUBAI: The Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, is in talks with bankers to raise a loan of between $5 billion (SR18.75 billion) and $7 billion to provide flexibility in its investment strategy.

The PIF has declined to comment on reports of the loan, said to be in the form of a revolving facility from a number of international banks, but sources said it was part of the fund’s regular financing arrangements, which have seen it take out and repay facilities for the past two years.

The loan finances are for use if and when the fund identifies investment opportunities and may not necessarily be used.

The PIF has been opportunistic during the coronavirus pandemic in identifying what it saw as undervalued assets on global stock markets and has been an active trader in securities on international markets.

The fund invested $7 billion in mainly US stocks in the first quarter of the year, when markets were first impacted by pandemic lockdowns, and increased and diversified that in the second quarter. It scaled back its commitments in the third quarter when asset values were near all-time highs. In the summer, it spent $1.5 billion to acquire a stake in the Indian digital business Jio Platforms.

PIF, under governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, is at the heart of the Kingdom’s strategy of economic diversification under its Vision 2030 reform plan, while simultaneously building an international portfolio of assets.

Earlier this year, PIF repaid a $10 billion syndicated loan ahead of schedule after it completed the sale of its stake in SABIC to Saudi Aramco, and in 2018 it raised an $11 billion term-loan facility from international banks.

Previous fundraisings were done in partnership with a group of 10 banks from the US, Europe, and Asia that form part of the fund’s “core banking relationships.”