33rd Asean Summit

Apec key to signalling value of multilateral trade system: PM Lee

Whatever happens in the wider world, Asia-Pacific nations should promote an environment of free and open trade and investments, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, ahead of a series of meetings on economic issues in Papua New Guinea this weekend.

PM Lee, who is travelling to Port Moresby tomorrow to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Economic Leaders' Meeting, said he hopes the meeting will send a strong message in support of an open and rules-based multilateral system.

"I hope it will also press on with Apec's longstanding objectives of promoting free and open trade and investment in the region," he said.

It is also important for Apec to seize opportunities from the digital economy, and promote global trade rules to facilitate and support its growth, PM Lee added.

"Apec involves many major economies - the US, China, Russia - and so, if among them they agree they will work in a certain way, then there is significant signalling, impact and influence on how things happen in the rest of the world, whether it is Europe or Latin America or Africa," he said.

Apec was founded nearly 30 years ago to reduce tariffs and other barriers to trade across the region in order to foster efficient growth, and cooperation between members has grown significantly.

He added: "I hope that we will continue to have that effect, especially at this time, when conditions are not quite so certain as before."


PM Lee was speaking at a press conference to wrap up the Asean Summit, during which he noted that significant progress was made on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The massive trade pact, involving all 10 Asean states and six other countries - Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand - will create the largest trading bloc in the world, accounting for 40 per cent of the world's trade and a third of global gross domestic product.

When asked if Singapore was disappointed that the trade deal could not be concluded during the past week's summit, PM Lee said: "We would, of course, be delighted if we could have settled the RCEP here, it would have been an excellent little feather in our cap. But we understand political exigencies, we appreciate that a lot of progress has been made, and that we are very close to the finish line."

Five more chapters of the pact were concluded this year, bringing the total to seven.

RCEP leaders said in a statement that significant progress has also been made in other chapters.

PM Lee noted that leaders have committed to complete the negotiations next year. "It is a strong commitment, and I have reasonable confidence that it will happen," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2018, with the headline 'Apec key to signalling value of multilateral trade system: PM Lee'. Subscribe