K. Shanmugam tells Singapore Caucus in the US that TPP is about credibility, not economics

Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam (centre) with Singapore caucus co-chair Denny Heck (right) and Representative Judy Chu (left), the chair of the Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam (centre) with Singapore caucus co-chair Denny Heck (right) and Representative Judy Chu (left), the chair of the Asian Pacific American Caucus.ST PHOTO: JEREMY AU YONG

A Congressional Singapore Caucus has been set up on Capitol Hill, relaunching a grouping first established in 2002 that brings together United States lawmakers who have an interest in Singapore.

The caucus of some 22 members of the House of Representatives from both the Democratic and Republican parties is co-chaired by Congressman Bradley Byrne of Alabama and Congressman Denny Heck of Washington state.

Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam hailed the caucus as a "strong signal of bipartisan support for Singapore".

In his speech at the relaunch, Mr Shanmugam took stock of the strong bilateral relationship between the US and Singapore.

Economically, for instance, he noted that Singapore was the US' third-largest foreign direct investor from Asia in 2013.

Singapore companies have created close to 40,000 jobs in the US and US exports to Singapore have created another 200,000 American jobs.

And he stressed there was room for the partnership to grow further.

"With Asean integration well underway, there is only one place in Asean that offers the stability and the rule of law and the ease of doing business, and a global financial centre. Singapore can be the New York of Asean… and America, through its partnership with Singapore is well positioned to take advantage of that growth," added Mr Shanmugam.

But he did also reiterate to the lawmakers present the importance of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement. During two separate dialogues on Monday and Tuesday in Washington, the foreign minister had stressed that the failure to push through the TPP would have a great impact on American credibility in the region.

He repeated that message during the relaunch of the caucus: "For some years now, American administration from the president downwards have been coming out to Asia and have been saying how important it (the TPP) is… And it is really the litmus test of American ability to deliver on what it has promised, what the president has said is the most important thing America is doing in the Asia-Pacific.

"If you can't deliver it, how do we rely on you for anything else? So it's not just a question of economics, economics is actually the smaller part of it. Why are we plugging the TPP when we have a free trade agreement with the US? We have a free trade agreement with China, with Japan with other countries that matter. Strategically, what is your engagement with Asia, what is your leverage of engagement with the fastest growing region in the world. The only game in town is the TPP," he added.

In a letter inviting their congressional colleagues to join the caucus, the two co-chairs said that Singapore had been a "strong and consistent strategic partner" for the US and hoped that the grouping would provide a forum for members and staff to "understand Singapore and the wider security and economic trends in South-east Asia and the Pacific".

At the launch ceremony in the US Capitol, Mr Heck told reporters: "I am particularly interested in understanding the role of Singapore as the fourth-largest financial centre in the world. I happen to serve on the Financial Services Committee and I'd very much like to know more how it is that they serve that critical role throughout the entire world and especially throughout the region."

The caucus lapsed during the previous session of Congress after it lost one of its co-chairs in the election cycle. But Mr Heck said there was a lot of enthusiasm among lawmakers when a suggestion was put forth to relaunch it.

Said Mr Heck: "A couple of us who had an interest, reached out to other members and said, 'This used to exist, we think it should exist again, especially in light of the emerging importance of Asean.

"Lo and behold, we barely turned around and there were 20 other people said yes. Clearly, there was some interest there, some latent interest and we just tapped into it."

jeremyau@sph.com.sg