Fast lanes help foreign businesses resume work

Updated: Aug 14, 2020 By Xu Wei China Daily Print
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A planeload of German business executives, employees and their families landed at an airport in Qingdao, Shandong province, on July 9, marking the third time that the fast lane between China and Germany has facilitated the return of German businesspeople to their workplaces and homes in China.

For some foreign businesses in China, fast lane programs established between China and a number of countries have been a key contributor to their resumption of operations even as the COVID-19 pandemic harmed the global economy and affected international business travel.

"We are very proud that with our charter flights we are able to contribute to helping the economy return to normalcy and helping to bring people back to their workplaces and homes in China. We were able to repatriate several hundred persons," said Jens Hildebrandt, executive director of the German Chamber of Commerce in North China.

He explained that the economic effects of international travel restrictions are the most frequently mentioned issue for German businesses in China, and the export-oriented German economy needs an easing of travel restrictions worldwide and an increase in scheduled flight capacities to and from China while maintaining security and health precautions.

The importance of the fast lane for essential travel between China and Germany was also underscored by President Xi Jinping during his phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in June.

The fast lane program will help businesses from the two countries quicken the pace of reopening and ensure the stability of global supply and industry chains, he said.

During a phone call with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on July 14, Xi urged efforts to make full use of the fast lane program to inject more momentum into the business reopening and economic growth of both nations.

Xi also stressed the significance of the fast lane while speaking on the phone with Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in on May 13 and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on June 5.

China first opened a fast lane for key business, logistics, production, technical, and service personnel with the ROK in May, before inking agreements on similar programs with countries including Singapore, France, and Myanmar. The programs reduce a 14-day quarantine requirement for international travelers to just one or two days.

"The fast lanes jointly launched by China and other countries have enabled the reaching of equilibrium between epidemic containment and economic recovery," said Xu Xiujun, an international political economy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Xu noted that the shock from the coronavirus on the global economy was most keenly felt in its disruption of global industry and supply chains as well as international economic exchanges.

"The fast lane programs not only help consolidate the outcomes of the global epidemic fight but also contribute to the smooth functioning of global industry, supply, and logistics chains. They provide a viable model for different countries to minimize the impact of the pandemic on economic exchanges," he said.

Moreover, the fact that an increasing number of countries have established fast lanes with China also indicated that the program has met the demand from various countries to shore up economic growth during the pandemic response, he added.

According to a survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in China in May, global travel disruption remains the top concern for US companies in China, with 90 percent of respondents stating that such disruptions have affected their business operations.

The survey also found that the return of senior expatriate executives tops the concerns of the chamber's member companies, with thousands of senior executives still stranded outside of China.

Wang Tong, executive vice-president of Samsung Electronics China, said the company was able to bring 3,000 ROK engineers to China via 13 chartered flights thanks to the fast lane between the two countries.

"We have keenly felt the efficiency of the Chinese government, the care from the government for businesses, and the ability of the government to get things done," he said in an interview with China Central Television.

Chan Chun Sing, the Singaporean trade and industry minister, said in June that mutual assurance and confidence to put in place effective COVID-19 prevention and control measures are important in fast lane arrangements such as the one between China and Singapore, and he looks forward to making progress with more countries.

During a meeting with the foreign ministers of five Central Asian countries in July, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi also expressed China's readiness to establish a fast-track for personnel exchanges and a green lane for cargo shipments to ensure the safe and stable functioning of regional industrial and supply chains.

Ding Yifan, a researcher of the global economy at the Development Research Center of the State Council, said personnel exchanges remain an integral part of industry and supply chains despite the fact that the pandemic has given rise to more online communication.

He said China's strong testing capacities for the novel coronavirus have given it some leeway to relax restrictions on essential international travel, which will also help the country to open up wider to the world.

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