Singapore will continue speaking up against TPP sceptics: PM Lee

Singapore will continue speaking up against TPP sceptics: PM Lee
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking on Aug 1, 2016 in Washington. Photo: AP
Published: 8:10 AM, August 4, 2016
Updated: 11:35 AM, August 4, 2016

WASHINGTON DC – The landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact is an important component of United States President Barack Obama’s legacy and Singapore will continue speaking up to convince the sceptics, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday (Aug 3, US local time).

“We (Singapore) can speak up. We have participated in the negotiations, we have helped make a good agreement which benefits all parties… We hope this agreement will go through,” Mr Lee told the Singaporean media at the end of a four-day official visit to the United States.

Discussions of the TPP, which covers around 40 per cent of the world’s total economic output, had featured prominently on Mr Lee's visit to Washington. In his speech at the US Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Mr Lee urged American business leaders to lend their support to the pact.

In his speech from the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday, shortly after he was given an official welcome, Mr Lee stressed that the ratification of the TPP was vital for American leadership and credibility in the Asia Pacific. Hours later, he reiterated his arguments in support of TPP at a joint press conference with Mr Obama.

“(The TPP) is an integral component of America’s rebalance to Asia,” said Mr Lee. “Apart from the economic benefits — trade, market access, standard setting - it’s also vital from a strategic point of view and a strong signal of the US commitment to continue its deep engagement in the region.”

When asked whether Singapore was putting all its eggs in one basket with regards to the TPP, PM Lee noted that the path towards free trade in the Asia Pacific has several components. This included the TPP, the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) Economic Community, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership currently being negotiated between Asean, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

“The TPP is a very major component (of the regional trade liberalisation agenda). So if we lose it, it will be a loss. I think we should try very hard to make sure that it comes through,” he said. “I don’t know if we are putting too many eggs in one basket, I don’t think we had that many eggs to play with.”

The US-led TPP is yet to be ratified by the US and countries including Japan. In the lead up to the US presidential election in November, front runners Ms Hillary Clinton and Mr Donald Trump have voiced concern against the TPP as they believe it hurts American jobs and does not guard against currency manipulation. But Mr Obama has consistently stated his support for the ratification of the agreement.

Brushing off his potential successors' opposition to the TPP, Mr Obama said at the press conference: "Well, right now, I'm President, and I'm for it. And I think I've got the better argument."

When asked to reflect on memorable moments working with the US President on various regional issues over the past eight years, Mr Lee said one vivid memory is how Mr Obama would take any opportunity to push other leaders to make progress on the TPP.

“Each time we would have a gathering of TPP members, we did it in Japan, Hawaii, and every subsequent meeting, and each time he’s personally pushing, and personally committed,” Mr Lee recounted.

And despite the fraught presidential election campaign in the US, Mr Obama has been pushing hard to ratify the agreement by January next year when he steps down from office. “I think it shows his determination and purpose, and we will do what we can to help,” said Mr Lee.