Kuala Lumpur, 23 April 2020 – Malaysia today proposed that ASEAN countries formulate a mechanism to provide their surplus food to nations around the world which are facing shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said. He said the potential success of this initiative would not only reignite trade from ASEAN to the world but also boost the income of ASEAN farmers, breeders and fishermen.
“In normal times, our food surplus will be exported to foreign markets in order to ensure there are no wastages. But during these unprecedented times, markets are closed with no definite time frame to when the global economy will be back to where it was before COVID-19,” he said during the Special ASEAN-United States (US) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on COVID-19, which was held virtually today.
Hishammuddin said Malaysia had taken proactive steps in ensuring that certain economic sectors remained open during the Movement Control Order (MCO) and also established a Food Security Fund. In the meeting, which was also attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Hishammuddin shared the latest COVID-19 situation in the country, which has recorded 5,532 positive cases with 3,452 recoveries as of noon yesterday.
“I admit, these numbers look promising, but a full victory goes beyond just focusing on the statistics. Initially, we were very much focused on controlling the spread of the coronavirus amongst the population, breaking the chain of infections through immediate investments in our healthcare system; and sourcing equipment and best practices from abroad.
“Following that, we then moved on to focus on the financial side of things,” he said. On the economic front, Hishammuddin shared that Malaysia has put in place three Economic Stimulus Packages worth a combined US$64.6 billion, which is 18.1 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), to assist the B40, M40 and Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
“This is to give a direct boost to people on the ground, ensuring cash is directly channelled to those affected by the MCO,” he added. He also spoke about the education issue during these challenging times, saying Malaysia has closed schools and educational institutions and pushed for online learning from home.
“And I am sure this is not just faced by Malaysia alone; there must be thousands, if not millions, of ASEAN citizens abroad facing similar situations. I understand that these are exceptional times which require exceptional measures, and we as nations must come together to ensure our people remain strong and steadfast through this crisis,” Hishammuddin said.
Touching on social systems, he said the dilemma now lies in what will happen when the MCO is lifted, as these restrictions have social ramifications and affect the ability of society to bond, communicate and maintain relationships. Nevertheless, Hishammuddin said problems will not truly be solved until medication and vaccine to prevent COVID-19 are found, adding that finding a vaccine must be the top priority of ASEAN and the US.
“We must come together to ensure we combine our collective strengths to stop this pandemic and mitigate its impact on our society. The urgency for us as nations to save lives is paramount and cooperation is key. “As leaders, we must be courageous and sincere in our efforts to work together for the benefit of our people. I am confident that with this partnership between ASEAN and the US, we can and will overcome this together,” he said.