Covid-19: Some Singapore-bound non-food cargo turned away at Malaysia checkpoint on first day of shutdown

Trucks transporting goods between Singapore and Malaysia seen at the Causeway on March 18, 2020. — TODAY pic
Trucks transporting goods between Singapore and Malaysia seen at the Causeway on March 18, 2020. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, March 18 — While food and other essential items have successfully made it across the Causeway into Singapore today, some companies delivering non-food materials told TODAY that their cargos were not allowed over the border on the first day of Malaysia’s shutdown. 

Stella Moh, assistant business development manager at trading company Glorreich, said that two lorries containing her company’s goods were being turned away at Malaysia’s checkpoint. 

Her company brings in packaging materials, such as carton boxes and pallets, for third-party logistics providers to pack their own goods before shipping them out. 

In a Facebook post today, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that the supply of fresh food from Malaysia has not been fully disrupted and most of Singapore’s wholesalers and retailers have managed to receive their goods as they do usually. 

Indeed, when TODAY went down to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre this morning, trucks loaded with fruits and vegetables could be seen arriving at the market, some of them from Malaysia.

However, Chan also said that the Government is aware that some companies have given feedback that trucks not containing food have not been allowed to leave for Singapore.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and are in touch with our Malaysian counterparts to ensure that food and other supplies will be able to come through to Singapore as agreed by Malaysian (Prime Minister) Muhyiddin Yassin in his phone call with (Prime Minister) Lee Hsien Loong yesterday,” Chan wrote. 

The day before, Lee wrote on Facebook that Muhyiddin had reassured him over the phone that “the flow of goods and cargo between Singapore and Malaysia, including food supplies, would continue”.

Malaysia has enforced a two-week ban on its citizens to stop them from travelling overseas and on foreigners entering the country. The ban, which was made to counter the spread of Covid-19, took effect at midnight on Wednesday. 

There are 790 Covid-19 cases and two deaths reported in Malaysia so far, the highest number of any Southeast Asian country. Singapore has reported 313 cases as of this evening.

In a document seen by TODAY that was issued by the Malaysian immigration authority, the guidelines on how the Malaysian government will carry out its movement control order were stated in Malay as follows: “Only Malaysian citizens and permanent residents or foreigners driving heavy vehicles for the purpose of carrying food supplies will be allowed to enter and exit the country, and are subjected to a health check.”

On the goods that are now stuck, Moh of Glorreich said: “After PM (Lee’s) post, we thought it would be all okay. Malaysians cannot commute, but we thought goods would be okay. This morning, we then realised, ‘Oh no, even goods cannot come in’.”

If this situation were to persist over the next two weeks, Moh said that her company would suffer major losses. 

Not just her company, but those receiving the supplies of packaging materials will, in turn, may not be able to ship their products, she pointed out. 

“After China’s (supply chain got disrupted), we thought there was still Malaysia. Now if there is nothing to ship for two weeks, we don’t know how. Everybody is quite afraid. It’s quite serious,” Moh stressed.

Tan Ru-Ding, director of electrical components maker Delphic Manufacturing Solution, said that it is not just the raw materials that his company transports from Malaysia into Singapore that would be an issue.

He is unable to ship finished products from Singapore into Malaysia to sell. 

“If the shipments don’t go through, we are going to be stuck very badly. It’s a lot of, a lot of disruption to my business operations,” Tan kept emphasising. “There is a lot of uncertainty, I would say.”

Pang Sing Yang, vice-president of cross border operations for Ninja Van, said that the logistics company had earlier cancelled its truck carrying land cargo into Malaysia in anticipation of the shutdown. 

While the firm managed to get some of the land cargo to be transported by air, Pang said that it was not able to do so for all of the land cargo due to aviation security requirements. That is why some goods due to be delivered across the Causeway are now stuck in Malaysia. 

“We are moving as much of our land haul cargo to be transported via airfreight, but it is challenging because there is a lot of Singapore-bound cargo stuck in Malaysia competing for limited and decreasing freight capacity. Ninja Van’s agents in Malaysia are working closely with the authorities in Johor to come up with a more sustainable solution,” Pang said. 

Trade and Industry Minister Chan wrote on Facebook that some companies have activated alternative transport arrangements via sea and air freight to get their goods from Malaysia to Singapore.

“Our economic agencies are working with our companies, in particular, those dealing with essential products and services, to minimise disruption to their supply lines,” he said. 

Chan added that he also spoke to his Malaysian counterpart Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and they both agreed that it is in both countries’ interest to ensure that supply chains remain robust and in working order. — TODAY

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