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US-led economic framework for Indo-Pacific should be inclusive, provide 'tangible benefits' to countries: PM Lee

WASHINGTON, DC — Digital trade, trade facilitation and supply chain resilience, as well as capacity building are three areas that should “ideally be covered” under the economic framework proposed by the United States for the Indo-Pacific region.

US-led economic framework for Indo-Pacific should be inclusive, provide 'tangible benefits' to countries: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) with US President Joe Biden at the White House on May 12, 2022.

  • The economic framework proposed by the United States for the Indo-Pacific region should cover digital trade, trade facilitation and supply chain resilience as well as capacity building, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday
  • It should also be inclusive and provide tangible benefits to encourage wider participation by countries, he said
  • Mr Lee was attending a meeting between Asean leaders and US business leaders in Washington, DC as part of the Asean-US Special Summit
  • On Thursday, Mr Lee and other Asean leaders also met with US President Joe Biden and US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

WASHINGTON, DC — Digital trade, trade facilitation and supply chain resilience, as well as capacity building are three areas that should “ideally be covered” under the economic framework proposed by the United States for the Indo-Pacific region.

The framework, which was mooted by the US last October, should also cover cooperation in areas like digital and green economies and infrastructure because these issues will “resonate strongly in the region”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (May 12).

Speaking during a meeting between Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leaders and senior US business leaders at the Willard InterContinental hotel in Washington, DC, Mr Lee said that Singapore welcomes the framework and added that it needs to be “inclusive and provide tangible benefits to encourage wider participation” by countries.

“We encourage greater Asean participation in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and we hope the US will directly invite and engage Asean member states in this endeavour,” said Mr Lee, who is currently in the US capital to attend the Asean-US Special Summit.

The summit, which takes place on Thursday and Friday, commemorates 45 years of US-Asean relations.

It is the second Special Summit between a US president and Asean leaders since 2016, where Mr Lee met with former US president Barack Obama. 

The meeting on Thursday, which included US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, was one of several engagements with the US during the summit.

During the meeting, leaders on both sides discussed ways to strengthen economic cooperation between Asean and the US.

Mr Lee’s suggestions for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework were delivered during a discussion on plans for the US and Asean’s post-pandemic economic future.

The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework was first mooted by US President Joe Biden at the East Asia Summit last October as part of the US’ economic strategy in the region.

Expected to be finalised this month, the framework will allow negotiations for areas in four economic “pillars”: Fair and resilient trade, supply chain resiliency, clean energy and anti-corruption.

Elaborating on the potential areas that the framework can cover, Mr Lee said on Thursday that the focus on digital trade can harness Asean’s growing digital potential, such as by facilitating cross-border data flows.

Cooperation in this area can also take advantage of Asean’s ongoing work on digital trade standards, data and digital utilities and payments, said Mr Lee.

On cooperating in the area of trade facilitation and supply chain resilience, Mr Lee said: “A resilient supply chain is fundamentally underpinned by strong connectivity, so that there is early detection and timely responses to potential disruptions.

“We welcome collaboration to build digital capabilities, and to strengthen regional connectivity and logistics infrastructure.”

In the third area of capacity building, Mr Lee said that Singapore supports regional human capital development, including through the US-Singapore Third Country Training Programme.

The programme aims to help Asean countries meet their development goals and strengthen community building in the region.

Other Asean leaders who spoke at the meeting included Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

Delivering the opening remarks at the meeting, Ms Raimondo, the US Secretary of Commerce, announced that the US will hold its largest annual trade mission and business development forum, Trade Winds, in Thailand next year.

The forum will feature Thailand as a regional hub and include spin-off visits to five other Asean markets, she said.

Ms Raimondo also announced the launch of a new US-Asean Institute by the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies to train rising Asean public service leaders.

Prior to his meeting with US business leaders, Mr Lee met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh where both leaders reaffirmed the excellent bilateral relations between their two countries.

Mr Lee and other Asean leaders were later hosted to a working lunch with congressional leaders by Ms Nancy Pelosi, the US Speaker of the House, at Capitol Hill.

Mr Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said that during the lunch, both sides exchanged views on global and regional issues as well as the future of Asean-US cooperation.

Mr Lee also encouraged members of Congress to continue supporting the Asean-US agenda, especially on trade and investment in the region, and for both sides to continue exploring collaboration in new and mutually beneficial areas, said Ms Chang.

On Thursday evening, Mr Lee and other Asean leaders were received by Mr Biden at the White House. They also took a commemorative photo and were hosted to dinner by Mr Biden.

This is the first in-person engagement between the Asean leaders and Mr Biden, and also the first meeting between Asean leaders and a US President at the White House.

Mr Lee's press secretary, Ms Chang, said that the prime minister thanked Mr Biden for hosting the summit, which was a testament to the US’ commitment to keep up high-level engagement with Southeast Asia, even amid the difficult geopolitical situation.

Mr Lee also welcomed the US’ interest in expanding cooperation with Asean in a number of areas, such as education, the economy and the environment.

On Friday, Mr Lee will meet with US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Mr John Kerry.

He and the Asean leaders will later attend a working lunch hosted by US Vice-President Kamala Harris, as well as plenary sessions with Mr Biden and US Cabinet secretaries. Both sides will discuss global and regional affairs, as well as issues related to climate change.

Leaders from two of the 10 Asean countries, Myanmar and the Philippines, were not present at the summit.

Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was excluded after Mr Biden said he would follow Asean’s lead by inviting a non-political figure from military-led Myanmar which, in February last year, ousted the elected government of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Philippines, which concluded its presidential elections on Monday, is represented by its foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin.

Related topics

ASEAN United States Lee Hsien Loong Joe Biden economy trade

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