Apec Summit in Manila

Educate public on TPP's benefits, says PM Lee

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (center), with wife Ho Ching (left), waves upon his arrival at Manila's International airport prior to attend the APEC Summit in Manila, Philippines, Nov 18, 2015.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (center), with wife Ho Ching (left), waves upon his arrival at Manila's International airport prior to attend the APEC Summit in Manila, Philippines, Nov 18, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

Share gains widely and help those hurt by increased competition, he urges leaders

Getting people to come around to accepting the benefits of the landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is one of the key challenges facing the governments of the 12 countries in the trade pact.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was among the leaders of these Pacific Rim nations who yesterday underlined the importance of educating the man on the street about the TPP to see its ultimate benefits.

Success in convincing the people that it will grow the economic pie all round will coax people to undertake the economic reforms that are inevitable when trade barriers come down, he said.

He was speaking at a closed-door meeting of the 12 countries' leaders, ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Leaders' Meeting. It was their first meeting since the countries' officials concluded talks on the TPP.

 

His speech, made available to the Singapore media, urged the leaders to ensure its benefits are shared widely and to help those hurt by the increased competition.

"Taken by itself, the TPP will be a net plus for each country although there will surely be winners and losers within each country," he said.

Much work needs to be done before and after the TPP becomes a reality, the leaders said.

 

The TPP is a wide-ranging free trade pact and its members include the United States and Japan. Its critics say it seeks to benefit companies more than citizens.

But Mr Lee had noted earlier this week that it will save Singapore an estimated $1 billion a year in tariffs when it takes effect.

He said that Singapore stands ready to sign the agreement and hopes it will come into effect in two years' time.

But, he added: "I think not all countries' ratification will be as simple a process, but having come thus far, we should press on."

US President Barack Obama, who chaired the meeting, has actively sought domestic support for the TPP but many prominent congressmen oppose it.

He told the meeting: "We want all countries to pursue their interests and prosperity peacefully based on common rules on an open, level playing field."

Canada's new Prime Minister, Mr Justin Trudeau, has reservations and recently said that it will be reviewed in Parliament before a decision is made.

Mr Lee urged Canada to endorse it, saying the TPP was one way to boost their bilateral ties.

He noted that Canada is one of two TPP countries currently without a free trade agreement with Singapore.

Citing the case of Singapore, Mr Lee said that it has one of the most open economies in the world and has had to restructure, reform, and change industries and improve skills time and again.

For instance, Singapore was once one of the biggest disk drive makers in the world.

But when it was no longer cost competitive, the industry moved to Vietnam, Thailand and China.

"But within Singapore, after a period of restructuring, we were able to reskill the affected workers to do other jobs, not just in electronics, and we kept a full employment economy which keeps on growing, having transitioned from one industry, one technology into another," Mr Lee said.

"And so, too, we must do, all of us, with the TPP," he added.

The TPP should also be viewed as one pathway to achieving the Apec members' larger goal of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

But the TPP is not the last word in trade liberalisation, he said, noting other pacts in discussion, like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

This 16-nation partnership involves all 10 Asean members and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

There is also the Pacific Alliance trade bloc comprising four South American countries bordering the Pacific Ocean.

"They each have their pluses and minuses, but I think they each have their part to play," Mr Lee said.

The TPP, he added, should welcome new members.

Indonesia's Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said at an earlier Apec session that his country was still studying the impact of joining the TPP.

Mr Kalla also said Indonesia would work to ensure that global trade was not just free, but also fair.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2015, with the headline 'Educate public on TPP's benefits, says PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe