G-20 Summit: Trade, infrastructure improvements needed to spur growth, says PM Lee

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott welcomes Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the start of the G20 leaders Summit in Brisbane, Saturday on Nov 15, 2014. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged the leaders of the world's top economies to lowe
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott welcomes Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the start of the G20 leaders Summit in Brisbane, Saturday on Nov 15, 2014. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged the leaders of the world's top economies to lower trade barriers and address infrastructure gaps in order to stimulate anaemic world growth. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

BRISBANE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged the leaders of the world's top economies to lower trade barriers and address infrastructure gaps in order to stimulate anaemic world growth.

Speaking at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit on Saturday, he noted that both trade and infrastructure are key to improving the global economy, but that there have been recent "worrying" trends.

Trade has become more restrictive and its progress has slowed significantly in recent years to lag the pace of economic growth, PM Lee observed at a working dinner for G-20 leaders.

In the last two years, world trade grew an average of 2.2 per cent, while the global economy expanded an average of 3.4 per cent, according to data from the World Trade Organisation and International Monetary Fund.

To spur growth, more must be done to fight protectionism and facilitate trade, PM Lee said.

While the G-20 - which represents some 90 per cent of the world economy and 80 per cent of global trade - has pledged to halt measures that hamper trade, the results show otherwise. Protectionist measures must be reduced to help companies "access opportunities globally", he added.

Work also needs to be done on infrastructure, which not only spurs growth but can also elevate living standards, PM Lee said.

"When combined with new technologies, we can have smart infrastructure that will enable emerging cities to leapfrog more developed ones and raise the quality of life for our citizens."

He cited the examples of Santiago in Chile, which is using sensors to monitor highway congestion in real time and vary toll charges automatically, and Singapore, which has invested in technologies to recycle used water into affordable, high-quality clean water.

But to realise the full potential of smart infrastructure, governments must improve how projects are managed and how they are financed, he said.

PM Lee also highlighted the importance of recent multilateral initiatives, saying new players such as the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank - of which Singapore is a founding member - should work with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to ensure high standards and meet "immense" infrastructure needs.