MANILA - Trade in Southeast Asia should remain open, President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday as the region's leaders discussed how to combat the coronavirus pandemic in a special video conference.
Duterte said trade among member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should be maintained despite the pandemic as no country can survive on its own.
"ASEAN must remain open for trade. Crisis or no crisis, as no country can stand alone," the President said in his intervention during the video conference.
"Let us, therefore, ensure the supply chain connectivity and the smooth flow of goods within our region," he added.
Among items that should be prioritized for trade within Southeast Asia are medical gear and medicine needed to address the pandemic, Duterte said.
"We face a shortage of vital medicines and medical equipment and supplies. We need to boost production and facilitate intra-ASEAN trade of these life-saving necessities," he said.
"Retreating from the regional and global connections cannot be the answer. To effectively overcome the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, ASEAN must collaborate and coordinate within our region and beyond," he said.
Duterte also conveyed the Philippines gratitude to neighboring countries that have lent a hand in the country's pandemic response, particularly Brunei, and Singapore.
The Philippines has the most number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia as of Monday, data from the ABS-CBN Data Analytics team showed.
The country has recorded 4,932 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Monday. Of that number, 242 have recovered and 315 have died.
Vietnam earlier said ASEAN's 36th summit was rescheduled from April to the end of June due to worries about the spread of COVID-19.
-with a report from Reuters