Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Singapore urges US to boost trade agenda with ASEAN

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien urged the United States on Wednesday to pursue a more active trade agenda in Southeast Asia in response to China's growing economic influence in the region.

"Over the last decade, China has become the top trading partner of almost all Southeast Asian nations, including U.S. allies such as the Philippines and Thailand," Lee said in a speech to U.S. business groups.

"The U.S. must adopt a more active trade agenda with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). In Asia, trade is strategy," Lee said.

The United States is already involved in free trade talks with four ASEAN nations - Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei - as part of negotiations on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional agreement including 11 countries on both sides of the Pacific.

But the TPP talks are currently limited to members of another regional grouping, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which does not include ASEAN members Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

All ten ASEAN members are negotiating a free trade agreement with China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Trade experts say that pact is not expected to be as comprehensive or groundbreaking as the TPP agreement.

Japan has recently expressed interest in joining talks on the TPP.

"I welcome Japan's decision to join the TPP," Lee said. "It is a strategic move that brings an important US ally in Northeast Asia into this important grouping."

Both the TPP and the RCEP are considered stepping stones to the long-term goal of an even broader Asia Pacific agreement, potentially including all 21 members of APEC and the 10 members of ASEAN, with some overlap.

Lee said he welcomed President Barack Obama's decision to put "trade at the center of his agenda" by pursuing the TPP pact, a free-trade agreement with the European Union and by seeking "trade-promotion authority" from Congress.

That legislation, long considered essential for U.S. trade negotiations, allows the White House to submit trade deals to Congress to vote on without amendments.

Lee also discussed U.S.-China relations, which he said was of importance to every country in the region.

"The U.S., as the incumbent superpower, which will remain dominant for decades to come, naturally has interests to protect," Lee said.

"China understands that its success depends on a stable international environment. It wants its rightful place in the sun, and will be wary of any perceived attempt to conscribe its freedom of action," Lee said.

"So, strengthening strategic trust (between the United States and China) is critical," Lee said.-ABS-CBN News (April 03, 2013)

No comments: