TPP leaders vow to press on with ratification of trade deal

PM Lee and Deputy Secretary (Trade) MTI Luke Goh (left), at the TPP Leaders meeting in Lima, Peru on Nov 19, 2016.
PM Lee and Deputy Secretary (Trade) MTI Luke Goh (left), at the TPP Leaders meeting in Lima, Peru on Nov 19, 2016.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

PM Lee says Singapore will amend laws to bring into effect the pact by early next year

Leaders of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) nations pledged to press on with the landmark trade deal that hangs in the balance after the United States presidential election.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told fellow TPP leaders at a meeting on Saturday (yesterday morning Singapore time) that Singapore will amend legislation to bring into effect the TPP by early next year.

"While the circumstances have changed, the fundamental rationale for the TPP has not changed. It remains important, both economically and strategically," Mr Lee said.

"It will integrate our economies and set a high standard for future regional trade agreements, especially in the Asia-Pacific, and foster prosperity, security and stability in the whole region," he added.

Leaders of the 12 TPP members also agreed to continue to seek domestic approval for the pact.

At the hour-long meeting, held on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit, the US also said it would raise awareness of the agreement's importance back home, said Mr Yasuhisa Kawamura, a spokesman for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The TPP can come into force only if it is approved by six countries that account for at least 85 per cent of the group's economic output - which means ratification by both the US and Japan is essential.

But ratification by the US is now unlikely after President-elect Donald Trump won the Nov 8 election on an anti-trade platform.

The other TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Negotiations began in 2010 and concluded last year, and Mr Lee welcomed Japan and New Zealand taking steps to ratify it.

"Let us continue to take a long view. The world is watching carefully how we will respond," he said. "We should stay the course and we must not undo the good work that has been done over the past six years."

Mr Abe, who has invested much political capital in realising the TPP, said he would continue to explain its merits to those who misunderstand that it benefits only large corporations and not small firms.

Japan's Lower House has approved the TPP and it is now before the Upper House. "Although we received harsh criticism from the media and the opposition parties, we cannot stop our efforts for domestic support or we will see the death of TPP and rampancy of protectionism," Mr Abe added.

Mexican Finance Minister Idelfonso Fajardo had said Mexico, Australia and Malaysia have agreed to press ahead with approval.

At yesterday's meeting, the TPP leaders, including US President Barack Obama, also affirmed the economic and strategic importance of the pact.

Mr Lee thanked Mr Obama for personally leading the TPP, and noted that all members had worked hard to take the trade deal this far.

"I shared President Obama's hope that after the new administration has settled in, deliberated on the matter, and taken advice, it will in due course take a considered decision," he said. Mr Lee also agreed with Mr Abe that leaders had to keep up the momentum and "show that it benefits all of us".

 

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At a separate forum before TPP leaders met, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key outlined possible outcomes for the pact. Members could go ahead without the US, or renegotiate it completely.

Or, they could make "cosmetic changes" so Mr Trump can present it as a better deal. This could mean renaming it the "Trump Pacific Partnership", he quipped to laughter.

Mr Abe's spokesman Mr Kawamura told reporters it was too early to predict what the new policies of the Trump administration will be like.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China will continue to open up its economy amid rising protectionism globally, and urged fellow Apec members to work towards lowering trade barriers.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'TPP leaders vow to press on with ratification of trade deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe