LIMA (Peru) - It will be a great loss if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) does not come to fruition, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Nov 20) (Monday morning, Singapore time), as he again underlined the strategic and economic importance of the landmark trade deal.
"It would make a lasting contribution to the stability and the prosperity of the region, so we lose that, well, life goes on. But you have lost something precious and which would have been very worthwhile having," he told Singapore reporters at the end of a five-day trip to Peru to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit.
Even if countries try for a new deal down the road, fresh negotiations would have to take place under different conditions, PM Lee said.
He noted that the TPP's present form took six years of talks involving "very hard work, enormous amount of effort, argy-bargy, compromise, and deals worked out".
Delaying the trade pact will mean that it becomes all the harder to approve as circumstances change and new technology, markets, and economic trends emerge, he added.
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 United States and Japan - as the world's top and third-largest economies respectively - is crucial.
But hopes of the US doing so have faded 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.
Leaders of the 12 TPP countries met on Saturday on the sidelines of the Apec Summit to discuss a way forward, and agreed to continue seeking domestic approval of the trade pact.
In the meantime, they will wait to see what the US decides to do, and if indeed it withdraws from the TPP, the other countries will re-examine their options, Mr Lee said.
There has been talk about excluding the US from the TPP so that it can proceed, but Mr Lee said this would mean fresh negotiations to hammer out new terms.
That would not be easy as New Zealand and Japan have already begun the ratification process, and any change would undo the progress already made.
But for now, the possibility of the TPP coming into force, though diminished, cannot be completely ruled out.
Mr Lee said: "So we have not come to that bridge yet, we will cross it if and when we come to that."