BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — ASEAN needs to urgently support post-pandemic recovery by keeping regional economies open and ready for business, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah said on Thursday.

In his titah during the virtual 37th ASEAN Summit plenary session, the sultan said the recovery of Southeast Asian economies from the COVID-19 pandemic requires a strategic and holistic approach.

He said people’s well-being and livelihoods must be prioritised, which includes enhancing regional safety nets and addressing issues such as unemployment and mental health.

Speaking from Istana Nurul Iman, His Majesty said regional recovery from the pandemic can also be supported by improving ASEAN’s preparedness in detecting and responding to emerging challenges.

The sultan joined other ASEAN leaders at the four-day summit, which was hosted by Vietnam and held through a teleconference for the second time this year amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The first online ASEAN summit was held earlier in June this year, which saw the proposal of a regional response fund towards combating the spread of the coronavirus.

His Majesty the Sultan during the opening ceremony of the virtual 37th ASEAN Summit. Photo: Infofoto

His Majesty also looked forward to the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement which will signify ASEAN’s firm commitment towards an open, inclusive and rules-based multilateral trading system, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Fifteen countries — the 10 ASEAN member states as well as China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand — are expected to conclude years of negotiation with the signing of the trade pact on Sunday.

The deal could become the world’s biggest trade agreement as the participating countries make up 29 percent of global gross domestic product.

However, tariff reductions across various sectors are expected to take years to complete.

In related meetings with ASEAN dialogue partners, His Majesty encouraged greater efforts towards realising the full potential of the ASEAN-China free trade agreement in facilitating regional post-pandemic recovery.

He also welcomed Japan’s US$50 million contribution in establishing the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, which aims to improve the region’s preparedness in any future health crisis.

The monarch further acknowledged South Korea’s proposal to establish a health dialogue channel that would strengthen and complement post-pandemic recovery work.

With Brunei set to assume the ASEAN chairmanship next year, His Majesty gave his assurance that Brunei will work with all ASEAN member states and partners towards a caring, prepared and prosperous region.

Brunei last hosted the ASEAN Summit in 2013.