CARI Captures Issue 484: Vietnam begins human trials of locally manufactured vaccine Nanocovax
(17 December 2020) Vietnam began human trials of its locally manufactured vaccine Nanocovax on 17 December, with three volunteers receiving their doses at the Military Medical University in Hanoi. The volunteers will be monitored for 72 hours at the academy before being allowed to return home, after which they will be monitored for 56 hours after the vaccination. The vaccine was developed by Ho Chi Minh City-based Nanogen Pharmaceutical Biotechnology JSC. The Vietnamese government has remained committed to producing a home-grown vaccine to avoid reliance on foreign-made vaccines. The first phase trial for Nanocovax is expected to last four months, followed by another four-month trial for the second phase which will involve 400 to 600 test subjects. The third and final phase will last six months and might involve as many as 10,000 people in Vietnam, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia.
Singapore’s non-oil exports fall by 4.9% year-on-year in November 2020
(17 December 2020) Singapore’s non-oil domestic exports fell by 4.9% year-on-year in November 2020, following a 3.1% decrease in October 2020. This decline was due to the drop in the export of non-electronic goods including petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and non-monetary gold. On a seasonally-adjusted month-on-month basis, exports rose by 3.8% in November 2020, after a 5.4% decline in October 2020. Total trade fell by 8.7% in November 2020 on a year-on-year basis, mainly due to a decline in the oil trade. Total exports decreased by 8.0% in November 2020, while total imports fell by 9.4% in the same month. Exports to Singapore’s top markets decreased in November 2020, although exports to the US, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong grew. Exports to China, the EU, and Indonesia were the largest contributors to Singapore’s overall decline in exports.
Singapore to start new travel lane for business and official travellers
(15 December 2020) Singapore intends to start a new travel lane for business, official, and high-economic value travellers that will allow them to visit Singapore for short periods without needing to quarantine. Applications for the new travel lane will begin in January 2021. People of all nationalities can apply for the new travel lane but must follow strict health and testing protocols. These include being housed in a “bubble” within a dedicated facility (referred to as Connect@Changi), undergoing testing upon arrival and on days three, five, seven and 11, and observing all prevailing safe management measures. Travellers will be allowed to meet with locals, but the meeting will have to take place behind floor-to-ceiling dividers. This arrangement is primarily aimed at short-term visitors who don’t intend to stay longer than a few days.
INDONESIA, THE PHILIPPINES
Philippine and Indonesian central banks hold benchmark interest rates steady
(17 December 2020) The central banks in Indonesia and the Philippines held their benchmark interest rates steady on 17 December, with both banks pledging to keep their policies “accommodative” as their economies continue to struggle with the COVID-19 outbreak. Bank Indonesia kept its seven-day reverse repurchase rate at 3.75%, while Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) kept its overnight reverse repurchase rate at 2.00%. Both banks cited a relatively stable inflationary environment for their decisions. Bank Indonesia had lowered rates by a total of 125 basis points in 2020 as it expects their economy to contract by 1.0%-2.0%. Despite these rate cuts, loan growth in Indonesia has remained low. The BSP slashed rates by a cumulative 200 basis points in 2020, including a 25 bps reduction in November, making it one of the most aggressive central banks worldwide when it comes to policy easing.
World Bank approves two projects worth US$900 million to support post-COVID-19 recovery efforts
(17 December 2020) The World Bank approved two projects collectively worth US$900 million to support the Philippines’ post-COVID-19 recovery efforts, as well as to improve the country’s competitiveness and build resilience against shocks and natural disasters. The first approved project is the US$600 million Promoting Competitiveness and Enhancing Resilience to Natural Disasters Development Policy Loan, which supports reforms to help improve the Philippines’ digital infrastructure. The second project is a US$300 million fund for projects involving basic social services such as COVID-19 isolation facilities, improvements in water and sanitation, and construction of health stations. The World Bank predicts the Philippines to post an 8.1% contraction in 2020 due to lockdowns and typhoons.
Indonesia in talks with SpaceX about possibility of setting up rocket launch site
(14 December 2020) Indonesian authorities are in talks with SpaceX to set up a rocket launch site in Indonesia’s province of Papua. Indonesia’s National Institute of Aeronautics and Space is currently in the process of building a rocket launch site on Biak Island in the eastern province of Papua. Indonesian President Joko Widodo reportedly had a phone call with SpaceX founder Elon Musk on 11 December, and Musk will be sending a team to Indonesia in January 2021 to study partnership opportunities. Indonesia is already in talks with Musk over other investment opportunities in the country, including Tesla Inc setting up a manufacturing plant in Central Java. Indonesia is touting itself as an investment destination for the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries due to its rich abundance of nickel, a key component in lithium-ion batteries.
Economy expected to grow by 6.7% in 2021 following contraction of 5.8% in 2020
(17 December 2020) The World Bank projects that Malaysia’s economy will grow by 6.7% in 2021 following a contraction of 5.8% in 2020. An effective containment of the third wave of COVID-19 as well as an effective rollout and distribution of a vaccine could lead to a faster than expected recovery in consumer demand and greater investor confidence in the country. Malaysia posted a smaller contraction of 2.7% in the third quarter of 2020, as compared to 17.1% in the second quarter. The World Bank noted that fiscal measures such as cash transfers and wage subsidies had boosted household spending, with private consumption showing a 2.1% contraction in the third quarter of 2020 as compared to a 18.5% contraction in the second quarter. The World Bank expects Malaysia to return to its pre-pandemic trend at a modest pace over the medium term.
Retail sales in Brunei increased by 10.3% year-on-year in third quarter of 2020
(18 December 2020) Retail sales in Brunei increased by 10.3% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2020, after having increased by 1.6% in the second quarter. The total value of retail sales in the third quarter of 2020 was US$306.9 million. The increase in retail sales was due to growth in the sales of computer and telecommunication equipment, followed by the sales of electrical household appliances and lighting equipment, sales in supermarkets, and sales in department stores. Concurrently, there were also declines in the sales of books, newspapers and stationery in specialised stores, hardware, paints and glass in specialised stores, and petrol stations. On a quarter-by-quarter basis, retail sales in the third quarter of 2020 recorded a decline of 3.9% mainly due to a decrease in sales in department stores.
Thailand to ease travel restrictions for visitors from countries including Japan, the US, and Singapore
(18 December 2020) Thailand’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration stated that the country is easing travel restrictions for visitors from 56 countries including Japan, the US, and Singapore, ahead of the peak holiday season. Tourists will be allowed to enter the country without prior visas but will need to carry a health certificate and undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in the country. Visitors will also be required to undergo three COVID-19 tests while in quarantine, an increase from the previously mandated two tests. More frequent tests for visitors may allow authorities to reduce the isolation period to 10 days starting from January 2021. Thailand is focusing on reviving its tourist industry to exit its current recession.
Thailand negotiating “mini” FTA with Indian state of Telangana
(18 December 2020) Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce is negotiating a “mini” free trade agreement with the Indian state of Telangana, aiming to increase trade and investment between both parties. The agreement is expected to be signed by March 2021. Although Thailand had earlier negotiated an FTA with India involving trade valued at US$340 million, only 60% of the trade target has been reached thus far due to COVID-19 lockdown measures. After signing a trade deal with Telangana state, Thailand expects to sign other trade deals with other Indian states including Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala and seven sister states in India’s northeastern region. It is believed that signing more mini-FTAs with different states could help increase the overall trade value between Thailand and India.