Pandemic restrictions mean two-thirds of borders are fully or partly closed – dpa international

DUBLIN — Pandemic restrictions have completely or partly closed two-thirds of destinations worldwide to international tourism, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNTWO), a United Nations agency. One year on from the World Health Organization labelling the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, 69 out of 217 destinations remain “completely closed,” the UNTWO said on Monday in its latest Travel Restrictions Report. Around the same number of destinations are “partially closed,” the UNWTO calculated. Thirty-eight of the 69 completely-closed destinations have been that way for at least 40 weeks, the UNWTO said, noting “regional differences” in how curbs are applied.

Most Asian economies do not innovate in line with growth levels – dpa international

DUBLIN — Most East Asian countries “innovate less than would be expected given their per capita income levels” and could therefore struggle to sustain recent economic growth, according to the World Bank. Countries in the region are dogged by “insufficient staff skills and limited financing options,” the bank said in a report published late Tuesday, with firms often seeming wary of investing in innovation because “policies and institutions are often not aligned with firms’ capabilities and needs.” Lower-than-expected innovation could lead to questions about “whether the region’s past model of development can continue to deliver rapid growth and poverty reduction,” the bank said.

Global trade plummeted in 2020 before East Asia drove late-year revival – dpa international

Customers lining up at a mobile phone shop inside a Kuala Lumpur mall on May 4 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Global trade shrank by 9 per cent in 2020 despite a late-year recovery in East Asia, according to estimates published on Wednesday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The revival as “uneven,” with 8-per-cent fourth quarter growth in global merchandise or goods trade but stagnation in services, UNCTAD said.. While international commerce was “greatly affected” by “economic and social disruptions brought about by Covid-19,” East Asia registered “gains in global market share” after being able to “better weather the challenges of the pandemic,” according to the UN trade body.

Xi keen on US-led trade pact ditched by Trump – dpa international

DUBLIN — Chinese President Xi Jinping told Asia-Pacific leaders – including US President Donald Trump – on Friday that Beijing will “give positive consideration to the idea of joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).” The CPTPP is the revised version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional trade deal promoted by the US during the 2008-16 Obama administration. The US withdrew from the TPP shortly after Trump took office in early 2017, prompting the 11 other signatories to rewrite the agreement, which Britain is also interested in joining. Xi and Trump were taking part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which is being hosted by Malaysia, but taking place by video link due to the coronavirus pandemic.

UN agency data suggest Asia worst-hit by pandemic curbs – dpa international

A near-deserted street in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — International travel has plummeted during the novel coronavirus pandemic, with nowhere worse affected than the Asia-Pacific region, according to United Nations tourism body data.International arrivals across the region have dropped 72 per cent so far in 2020, according to the data, which was compiled for the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) new Tourism Recovery Tracker.International arrivals in the Asia-Pacific were down 99 per cent year-on-year, a standstill that came after countries imposed strict lockdowns and holiday bans aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. China, Japan and South Korea were among the worst affected, with the UNWTO tracker showing an 83-per-cent drop in tourist arrivals across northeast Asia as most countries prohibited all but essential travel.

Singapore PM warns of impact on Asia of US-China power rivalry – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fears rising tensions between the US and China could undermine security and economic growth across Asia and called on both sides to pull back from confrontation. Lee flagged his concerns in an article titled “The Endangered Asian Century” published  in the US journal Foreign Affairs, which has a history of running watershed essays by policymakers involved international relations.Fearing that smaller Asian countries could be forced to take sides if intransigence grows between the world’s two biggest economies, Lee called for cooperation between the US and China, even as tensions rise over the coronavirus pandemic, trade, the disputed South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. “The two powers must work out a modus vivendi that will be competitive in some areas without allowing rivalry to poison cooperation in others,” Lee implored.

UN warns of surging meth use across Asia, despite Covid-19 – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — The market for synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine, continues to grow in Asia despite the coronavirus crisis, a UN report said. “While the world has shifted its attention to the Covid-19 pandemic, all indications are that production and trafficking of synthetic drugs and chemicals continue at record levels in the region,” said Jeremy Douglas of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The findings, according to a new report by the agency, that relies on “data from 2019 and in some cases up to the first quarter of 2020,” are something of a surprise. “It is hard to imagine that organized crime have again managed to expand the drug market, but they have,” said Douglas, the agency’s Bangkok-based representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Police in Bangkok arrested three men on Thursday while confiscating over a million meth pills, while recent weeks have seen Myanmar’s military and police in Hong Kong seizing drugs and manufacturing equipment in separate raids.

Citing Covid-19, Pacific trade chiefs seek freer flow of vital goods – dpa international

Hand sanitiser and face masks for sale in a Kuala Lumpur supermarket (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Trade ministers representing 21 Asia-Pacific countries said on Tuesday that they “will work to facilitate the flow of essential goods and services” needed to fight the new coronavirus pandemic. The statement, released by the Singapore-based secretariat of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) body, listed “medicines, medical supplies and equipment, agriculture and food products” among those essential goods. APEC includes China, Japan and the US, the world’s three biggest economies. Other APEC members include Australia, Canada, Indonesia and South Korea, all of which have gross domestic products exceeding 1 trillion dollars. Tuesday’s statement marks a rare apparent consensus between China and the US, which have been embroiled in a trade war since shortly after Donald Trump became president in early 2017.

Coronavirus and travel restrictions set to ravage Asia’s airlines – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — An industry body representing nearly 300 airlines warned on Friday that carriers in the Asia-Pacific region could see business drop by half this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which includes 290 airlines among its members, said on Friday that the sector faces a revenue drop of 113 billion dollars due to a pandemic that has killed an estimated 190,000 people worldwide. Airlines in the region face “a 50-per-cent fall in passenger demand in 2020 compared to 2019,” the IATA stated, warning of catastrophic knock-on impacts in related sectors. “11.2 million jobs are at risk, including those that are dependent on the aviation industry, such as travel and tourism,” according to Conrad Clifford, IATA’s Singapore-based Asia-Pacific vice-president.

APEC says states should cut tariffs on medical gear during pandemic – dpa international

Hand sanitiser dispenser inside a café in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — The 21 member-states of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation body (APEC) should “consider the elimination or reduction” of tariffs on medical equipment needed to fight the new coronavirus pandemic, the group’s Singapore-based secretariat said on Wednesday. Warning of a “severe shortage” of “life-saving products” such as  face masks, hand soap, sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE), the secretariat said that its members – including China, Japan and the United States, the world’s three biggest economies – could agree to “an APEC-wide standstill.” According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the average tariff on “protective supplies used in the fight against Covid-19” is 11.5 per cent.