No economy has hope of being self-sufficient; trade flows should stay free and open: PM Lee at Apec

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the 29th Apec Economic Leaders' Meeting in Bangkok on Nov 18, 2022. PHOTO: MCI

BANGKOK - The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that no economy has any hope of being entirely self-sufficient, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday, as he called for continued free and open trade flows even amid a growing desire to onshore production. 

With the global economic outlook continuing to be uncertain, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) members must work together to promote sustainable and inclusive growth, he told fellow leaders at the 29th Apec Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Bangkok.

PM Lee said geopolitical tensions, inflation and supply chain disruptions pose new risks, while lower-income households and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be hardest hit. 

Singapore will continue to steward an action plan to improve supply chain connectivity across the Asia-Pacific, and Apec members should work together to improve the resilience and openness of global supply chains, he added.

PM Lee was speaking to fellow leaders during the first session of the two-day summit, which focused on balanced, inclusive and sustainable growth.

Apec comprises 21 member economies that account for close to half of global trade and more than 60 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product. Calling on Apec economies to collectively address choke points and create an environment that supports supply chain efficiency, connectivity and certainty, PM Lee urged collaboration with the private sector in areas such as technology access and capacity building. 

There is also a need to grow the digital economy to empower businesses and people, and Apec can lead the way by developing digital rules and promoting cross-border digital flows, he added. “The pandemic has accelerated digitalisation, but international rules have lagged behind,” he said. 

He noted that Singapore has digital economy agreements with Apec economies such as Australia, Chile, South Korea and New Zealand, which will raise productivity and lower business costs by facilitating digital modes of operation. Membership of the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement, which currently comprises Singapore, New Zealand and Chile, is also expanding. South Korea, Canada and China have applied to join, said PM Lee as he welcomed more Apec economies to join or collectively develop a new digital agreement. 

He also called for balanced and inclusive growth for societies, to ensure that all segments can participate in and benefit from economic growth. Singapore is facilitating the digital transformation of its SMEs by providing avenues for researchers to be seconded to SMEs to strengthen their innovation capabilities, he said.

The Republic is also doing more to equip its people with skills and knowledge for the future economy, including through upgrading programmes for workers in the tech sector.

Apec’s Aotearoa Plan of Action, set out in the 2021 Apec Economic Leaders’ Meeting, captures many of these initiatives and Singapore will play its part, such as by training Apec officials under the Singapore Cooperation Programme, pledged PM Lee. 

Singapore has shared its development experience with more than 150,000 foreign officials to date, he noted. In October, it also launched a Sustainability Action Package to support capacity building for developing economies on sustainability and climate change.

“With our collective leadership, Apec can play an important role in achieving balanced, inclusive and sustainable growth for our economies,” said PM Lee.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in his opening remarks at the session that the threat of climate change is an existential one.

“We must work together to mitigate its impact and protect our planet. We cannot continue on our current path... doing business as usual. We need to shift our mindset and change the way we live and do business,” he said.

He urged economies to consider adopting a blueprint for long-term development that integrates the green and circular economy, as such an economic model has improved the quality of life for Thai people and enhanced business opportunities.

PM Lee also met Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee separately on Friday, and reaffirmed Singapore’s strong ties with both economies.

PM Lee Hsien Loong meeting Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION
PM Lee Hsien Loong meeting Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee on Friday. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Also in Bangkok was Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, who attended the 33rd Apec Ministerial Meeting from Tuesday to Thursday, accompanied by Second Minister for Foreign Affairs and Education Maliki Osman. 

In a statement on Friday, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said Mr Gan spoke on how Apec economies could work together to advance a greener post-Covid-19 future.He encouraged Apec to advance decarbonisation and the adoption of clean energy, assist businesses to integrate into the green economy and develop a whole-of-economy approach for sustainable growth.

He also emphasised the importance of Apec continuing its efforts to deepen regional economic integration, with a view to realising the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, and urged Apec to demonstrate leadership in enhancing trade facilitation, building supply chain resiliency as well as supporting the growth of the digital and green economies.

Mr Gan also met his counterparts from China, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, said MTI.

The Apec Business Advisory Council, which comprises business leaders from Apec member economies, also met for its fourth meeting this year from Monday to Wednesday in Bangkok.

Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chief executive Lam Yi Young, executive vice-president Elaine Lam and SGTech chairman Wong Wai Meng represented the Singapore business community.

The SBF said in a statement on Friday that during the meeting, the council reiterated the need for collective leadership and decisive actions to accelerate economic recovery and growth. They also had a dialogue with Apec leaders on Friday.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.