There is still appetite for economic integration: Iswaran

Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran speaking at the ISAS Colombo Colloquium 2018, with moderator Razeen Sally, chairman of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka and senior adviser to the Sri Lankan Finance Ministry.
Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran speaking at the ISAS Colombo Colloquium 2018, with moderator Razeen Sally, chairman of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka and senior adviser to the Sri Lankan Finance Ministry.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

TPP-11 pact shows there are nations still keen on trade deals amid protectionist tide, he says

Despite growing anti-trade rhetoric around the world, there remain countries that wish to cut trade deals and advance economic integration as they see the benefits in them, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran.

This is evident from the trade deal reached on Tuesday by the 11 remaining nations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), he noted yesterday.

The new TPP-11 deal was reached a year after the United States pulled out, amid a protectionist tide that swept many nations. Mr Iswaran called the TPP-11 agreement a welcome development.

The deal still has some way to go because it must be ratified by each of the 11 countries, he said, but "there is reason for optimism".

Mr Iswaran was speaking to the Singapore media in Colombo a day after the signing of Singapore's new free trade agreement (FTA) with Sri Lanka.

The FTA is significant, and marks a new milestone in relations between the two countries, he said.

It helps both countries reach regional markets. For Sri Lanka, this means accessing the Asean market through Singapore, and for Singapore, accessing South Asia through Sri Lanka, he added.

The FTA guarantees zero tariffs for 80 per cent of product categories among Singapore exports to Sri Lanka. Tariff savings are estimated at $10 million yearly.

The deal also opens up to Singapore firms Sri Lanka's services market and government procurement projects, and ensures better protection for Singapore investments.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was in Sri Lanka to witness the FTA signing, concluded his official visit yesterday.

Before leaving, he received a courtesy call from leader of the opposition R. Sampanthan, during which he reiterated Singapore's support for Sri Lanka's development and national reconciliation process.

Mr Lee later flew to New Delhi to begin a visit to India, where he will attend the Asean-India Commemorative Summit.

The FTA raised some concern among Sri Lankan businesses, which felt the trade-offs made by their government in opening up markets were considerable.

Asked what trade-offs Singapore had to make, Mr Iswaran said: "I can't really go into specifics, because there is no direct one-for-one trade-off. You have to look at the trade agreement as a package."

He added: "On the whole, trade-offs - yes - but in terms of our commitment, they have not exceeded what we have, in general, committed to in other agreements."

Mr Lee and Mr Iswaran also met representatives of Singapore and Sri Lanka businesses yesterday.

At the business forum, three Singapore firms signed deals to expand their presence in Sri Lanka.

Food Studio, which owns a prawn farm, will set up and operate foodcourts in several malls. Aquaculture firm Ark Holdings will build and run a crab farm, while HPL Hotels and Resorts entered into a deal with Bank of Ceylon to redevelop and operate an iconic colonial property.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2018, with the headline 'There is still appetite for economic integration: Iswaran'. Print Edition | Subscribe