SINGAPORE wants to work with Beijing to set high standards for a regional trade pact that brings together Asean, China and five other countries, says Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.
The Asean-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) encompasses almost half the world's population, but members had missed three deadlines for concluding the pact. The other five members are Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
The top priority for the 10-member bloc and China this year is to conclude the RCEP, Mr Chan told Chinese media group Caixin in an interview on Thursday (Jan 25) at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos.
Singapore chairs Asean this year and is the coordinator of Asean-China relations until August 2018.
Mr Chan, who also leads the National Trade Union Congress, told Caixin Media that Singapore has very high aspirations of what "we will like to achieve with China".
He said Singapore has "higher aspirations for RCEP between ASEAN and China and the other countries in RCEP and that is to set high standards to inspire the world's economic system to reach that level of an open trading system where everybody can benefit".
The RCEP and the former Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have been touted as the building blocks towards a wider Asia-Pacific free trade area.
US President Donald Trump pulled America out of the TPP trade pact in January last year, labelling it a "job-killer".
The remaining 11 members agreed earlier this week to move ahead on a revised versioncalled the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). It will be inked by early March in Chile. Seven RCEP members are part of the new TPP-11 trade pact.
Mr Chan said the TPP-11, like the RCEP, is a key milestone agreement that signal to the rest of the world that "we intend to have an open, inclusive trading system for the benefit of all".
"But to do this well, we need political leadership, we need courage to break new ground to set high standards, and we need every government to also take ownership and help distribute the benefits to their people so that everybody can come onboard," he told Caixin.
If anybody can do this well, said Mr Chan, China is one of them because it has a very strong central government that can redistribute the benefits to make sure development is more evenly spread out across the different regions.