Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Trade and Industry

Singapore firms have many benefits to reap from trade groupings

Mr Lim Hng Kiang stressed that regional integration is critical to strengthening Singapore's value proposition as a gateway to South-east Asia
Mr Lim Hng Kiang stressed that regional integration is critical to strengthening Singapore's value proposition as a gateway to South-east Asia. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Being part of larger trade groupings like the Asean Economic Community (AEC) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is beneficial to Singapore, Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang told Parliament yesterday.

Singapore companies can have better access and opportunities to sell their goods and services across the region without having to pay duties, he said. This regional integration is critical to strengthening Singapore's value proposition as a gateway to South-east Asia.

Several MPs had asked about the benefits of the AEC and TPP for Singaporeans, citing how some of them fear losing their jobs to workers from neighbouring countries with lower wages.

And with United States President Barack Obama describing the TPP as a trade deal "that puts American workers first", Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer) asked if the TPP was in deed weighted in favour of the US with less benefit to Singapore.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) urged the Government to identify how Singaporeans with a passion for enterprise and business can align their career and skills upgrading plans to reap the benefits of these trade agreements.

Both the AEC and TPP provide opportunities for Singapore firms to expand overseas, and help create good jobs... Being part of the TPP and RCEP allows Singapore "to influence the rules of engagement and, where possible, enable us to enhance demand of manufactured goods and services from Singapore".

Mr Lim replied that both the AEC and TPP provide opportunities for Singapore firms to expand overseas, and help create good jobs for Singaporeans.

The rise of the middle class and urbanisation in regional economies could also raise demand for Singapore services. Under the AEC, restrictions have been eased in at least 80 services sectors, allowing majority foreign ownership in many areas in Asean countries.

For example, Singapore firms can now own a 100 per cent stake in Indonesia's engineering design and advisory services, and in Myanmar's engineering and construction services sectors.

"Ongoing negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will further complement the AEC by driving deeper regional economic integration," Mr Lim added.

Being part of the TPP and RCEP allows Singapore "to influence the rules of engagement and, where possible, enable us to enhance demand of manufactured goods and services from Singapore", he said. The TPP gives Singapore access to markets "beyond what we already have under bilateral agreements".

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked whether Mr Lim was hopeful of the TPP being ratified under a new US administration, and if Singapore should bet on the RCEP instead.

"It is quite obvious that when TPP was concluded, there was greater pressure on RCEP participants to get RCEP also concluded," Mr Lim replied. "So if we don't ratify the TPP, I'm very concerned this pressure on RCEP may be lifted and RCEP participants may not feel the same pressure to get it concluded.

"Our trade policy must be inclusionary. We should not be left out because we want access to as many markets as possible," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore firms have many benefits to reap from trade groupings'. Print Edition | Subscribe