Friday 27 June 2014

PM Lee marks 10th anniversary of US-Singapore FTA in Washington on 24 June 2014

PM Lee urges US business community to back TPP
'Good chance' trade pact can be completed this year, he says
By Fiona Chan Senior Economics Correspondent In Washington, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2014

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged the business community in the United States to put its weight behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which he described as "vital" to America's international standing and engagement in the Asia-Pacific.

Amid rapid changes in Asia's strategic landscape, the deal is all the more crucial for the US to crystallise its presence in the region, Mr Lee said on Tuesday. He was speaking at a reception to mark the 10th anniversary of the US- Singapore Free Trade Agreement, a deal that helped pave the way for the TPP.

China, which is not part of the TPP, is now the top trading partner of many Asian countries including the US' allies, while Asian economies are also becoming more integrated, Mr Lee noted.

As such, "for the US to engage in the region, and to expand its influence and its relevance to Asian countries, trade policy has to be a key instrument", he said.

"There has to be substance; if I may say, there has to be beef in the hamburger," he quipped, a reference to disagreements over tariffs on US beef exports to Japan, which remains one of the unresolved issues in the pact.

On a more serious note, he added: "The TPP is the most important deal on the table or anywhere on the horizon in this respect."

Mr Lee also noted that talks on the TPP are still on track to wrap up this year. The comprehensive free trade pact covers a dozen nations, including Singapore and the US, which in total make up 40 per cent of the world economy and a third of global trade.

There is a "good chance" that TPP negotiations will be completed this year, Mr Lee said.

"We are almost there, and I'm encouraged by President (Barack) Obama's promise to constructively resolve the remaining issues and I think we should be able to conclude it this year."

Mr Lee had reiterated the need for US support to complete the TPP at a dialogue organised by the US think-tank Council on Foreign Relations earlier in the day.

He told about 145 diplomats, academics and journalists the TPP "awaits just a last step to being completed and then the crucial steps to be ratified".

"And that depends on your electoral timetable and the pleasure of Congress, and we hope that there will be support to ratify that because it is important to the US, economically as well as strategically," he said.

Moving along the TPP, which grew out of a four-nation trade grouping comprising Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand and Chile, is one of the reasons Mr Lee is on a week-long visit to the US.

On Tuesday, he also met US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and they discussed global energy trends and developments, and ways to strengthen bilateral cooperation on energy issues including addressing climate change.

Mr Lee and Mr Moniz also talked about natural gas, as Singapore is importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) and hopes to become a gas trading hub, Mr Lee said in a Facebook post yesterday.

They also discussed nuclear energy. While Singapore is not building a nuclear power plant, it needs to understand the impact of its neighbours' plans to do so, Mr Lee said. Vietnam and Indonesia have mentioned such plans.

Perks of US-Singapore FTA 'extend beyond economics'
By Fiona Chan Senior Economics Correspondent In Washington, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2014

Born out of a midnight golf game, the historic free trade pact between Singapore and the United States not only brought multiple benefits for both but was also the foundation for a new era in US trade policy.

The US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which marks its 10th anniversary this year, has raised bilateral trade and made Singapore the largest recipient of US investment in the Asia-Pacific as of 2012, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday.

US exports to Singapore have increased more than 90 per cent since 2003, reaching US$42.8 billion in 2012. Total bilateral trade has risen 70 per cent in the same time to US$67.9 billion.

But the perks extend beyond economics, Mr Lee told a reception held by the US Chamber of Commerce and US-Asean Business Council to mark the event.

The pact - the US' first with an Asian country and still its only one with an Asean nation - deepened US engagement with Asia by laying the ground for other US FTAs including with South Korea and Australia, as well as for the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, Mr Lee said in a speech.

It also "enhanced America's longstanding presence in the Asia-Pacific and it's caused other regional countries to sit up and to take note, and to think how they too could deepen their relationship with the US", he told a 150-strong audience of diplomats and business leaders.

He recounted the now-famous story of how then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and then US President Bill Clinton agreed to start negotiations on the FTA during a late-night game of golf at the 2000 Apec summit in Brunei.

The landmark pact was one of the first high-standard FTAs and ushered in a new era for US trade policy towards Asia, the US Chamber's executive vice-president Myron Brilliant said at the reception. The chamber estimates that trade with Singapore supports more than 850,000 US jobs.

Acting Deputy US Trade Representative Wendy Cutler said the FTA also broke new ground in areas such as labour, e-commerce and the environment, and helped shape regional debates on trade.

Individual businesses have also profited. US lenders such as Citibank benefited from the Qualifying Full Bank licences granted under the FTA, which Singapore has not since offered to any other FTA partner, Mr Lee said.

The FTA has raised Singapore's profile in the US and allows easier movement of people between the countries, said Mr T.C. Voon, executive vice-president of ST Engineering's US unit VT Systems.

Tee Yih Jia's general manager for sales and marketing Laureen Goi told The Straits Times that the FTA helped lift the Singapore food company's market share and sales by eliminating the 8 per cent duty on its exports to the US.

These savings helped maintain Tee Yih Jia's price competitiveness, she added. The company's business in the US accounts for nearly a third of its revenue.

But Ms Goi sees room for enhancing the FTA, such as by allowing Singapore to export chicken-related products to the US.

Crucial for US to ratify TPP, says PM Lee
Failure to do so will call into question its commitment to Asia, he warns
By Fiona Chan Senior Economics Correspondent In New York, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2014

IT IS imperative that the United States not just sign but also ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as failing to do so would call into question its commitment to Asia, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday.

He asserted that the free trade pact, which covers 12 nations including Singapore and the US, goes beyond being a trade instrument, arguing that it is integral to America's strategic influence in the Asia-Pacific.

Concluding and ratifying the landmark pact would lend weight to the US pledge to rebalance its foreign policy towards Asia at a time of fast-moving geopolitical developments and a host of multilateral trade deals in the region.

If the US lets the ball drop on the TPP, it could lose "a great deal", Mr Lee said in an interview with Singapore media to wrap up what he called a "productive" trip to Washington and New York.

"If you're not even prepared to do the TPP, it calls into question the whole story of your commitment and your engagement. And I think it would be very, very damaging," he added.

Based on his discussions this week with top US officials, including President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Mr Lee felt the administration was "completely convinced" of the TPP's importance in deepening US relations with Asia.

"When I was... calling on Susan Rice, President Obama dropped in for a few minutes and we talked, and the TPP was foremost on his mind," Mr Lee said.

But not all the lawmakers he met were equally committed to the pact, he noted.

"What we need to be able to know is that between the administration and Congress, and the American people, they can work together to deliver the ratification... once the deal is sealed."

Mr Obama hopes a deal can be reached by November, when he will visit the region to attend the Apec summit in China, the East Asia summit in Myanmar and the G-20 summit in Australia.

The TPP talks are taking place amid a series of rapid shifts in Asia that threaten to undermine America's influence there.

Trade deals that exclude the US are being negotiated, such as the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will include Asean, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India. Scheduled for completion next year and covering a third of the world economy, the RCEP "will have some heft and substance", Mr Lee said.

"So the region is moving. So if America is not moving, you may be part of the game but you're not in play," he added.

Meanwhile, China's growing economic and military might is posing challenges for Washington, seen as the only effective counterbalance to Beijing in Asia.

Mr Lee said the US is watching China's moves in the South China Sea, where it is staking territorial claims that overlap with those of some other Asian countries.

"This is an important interest for all of us, and we want it to be worked out in a satisfactory way for all of the participants, which means compromises have to be made," he added. "But at the same time, we also want stable US-China relations - the most important bilateral relationship in the world. And the two are not mutually exclusive, but you have to manage both sides."

During his trip, he launched Temasek Holdings' new office in New York and spoke with US business leaders. On whether American firms are concerned about doing business in Singapore amid the foreign labour curbs, he said they still have "a lot of desire to do more in Singapore".

Noting that the US also faces immigration issues, he said he had explained the trade-offs in Singapore's labour policy.

"I think I convinced them that we very much had in mind the importance of keeping the economy vibrant and (being) able to grow and improve year by year."

Mid-East crisis: Singapore mindful of impact on Muslims
By Fiona Chan, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2014

NEW YORK - Singapore is carefully watching the unfolding crisis in Iraq and Syria for any impact it may have on the Republic's Muslim community, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday.

"You may think it's a long way away, but things in the Middle East have a way of sending out long-distance vibrations and reverberations which can affect us in South-east Asia," he told reporters in an interview towards the end of his week-long working visit to the United States.

Iraq is being rocked by an uprising of an extremist Sunni group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is trying to carve out a purist Islamic state across both sides of the Syria-Iraq border.

Muslims in Syria are mainly Sunni, as they are in Singapore and Malaysia, while Iraqi Muslims are predominantly Shi'ite.

Noting reports of Malaysians and Indonesians who have gone to join the conflict in Syria, Mr Lee said there is a danger that Singaporeans may also be "led astray".

"I think Singaporeans are also exposed to the same material on the Internet, they may have friends, they may have contacts, and they may also be led astray," he said.

To avoid this outcome, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, or Muis, has issued statements to guide Singaporean Muslims on the right path, Mr Lee said.

"This is not jihad, this is not a religious battle, this is a civil war," he added.

If Iraq becomes destabilised and lawless, the problem "will be magnified considerably", he noted.

"These are very violent environments, people are fighting, killing one another, bombing, committing suicide bombings," he said.

"And if people go there and fight, and after that they come back, some will come back, what happens? They bring back the ideas, the passions, the skills, maybe the equipment, and that's big trouble."

Governments in Europe, the United States and Asia are worried about this happening, Mr Lee added. "It's a problem which we in Singapore should watch carefully too."

Temasek opens first US office in NY
By Fiona Chan, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2014

SINGAPORE'S investment company Temasek Holdings opened its first United States office in New York on Thursday, a signal of its confidence in the long-term prospects of the American economy.

This confidence stems from US resilience and dynamism together with America's "indomitable spirit of possibility", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the launch of the office.

He noted that the world's largest economy is picking up again after the global financial crisis five years ago.

More jobs are being created, unemployment is falling, business confidence is rebounding and the manufacturing industry is experiencing a resurgence.

"Above all, Americans never say die, and they are always chasing the next opportunity," PM Lee told an audience comprising about 300 business leaders and Temasek executives at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, near Temasek's new quarters.

Singapore has backed its conviction in the US economy with investments by not just Temasek Holdings and GIC, but also many other Singapore firms, he added.

Temasek companies Keppel Corporation and Sembcorp Industries built rigs that helped resolve the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, while smaller home-grown firms like CSE Global provide engineering services to the oil and gas sector out of Texas.

In all, Singapore companies - in sectors including aviation services, logistics and telecommunications - have supported some 40,000 American jobs, Mr Lee noted.

In turn, more than 2,000 American firms have their Asia or regional headquarters in Singapore, helping the Republic become a major petrochemicals, financial, and research and development hub.

Temasek's office "strengthens the longstanding and multi-faceted partnership between the United States and Singapore", he added.

Another aspect of the strong bilateral ties is free trade, and Mr Lee urged the audience to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership by lending their influence to encourage Congress to support and ratify the 12-nation free trade pact.

The office in New York will work closely with Temasek's offices in Mexico City and Sao Paulo in Brazil to cover the Americas, said Mr Lim Boon Heng, chairman of Temasek, in a speech at the launch.

They complement Temasek's London office, which was opened in March this year and covers Europe and Africa.

The offices will provide "a non-Asian lift" to the portfolio of Temasek, which celebrated its 40th anniversary on Wednesday, he added.

Singapore, US reaffirm ties as PM meets top officials
They discuss issues including South China Sea tensions, TPP trade pact
By Fiona Chan Senior Economics Correspondent In Washington, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2014

THE importance of the strategic and economic ties between Singapore and the United States was reaffirmed during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's meetings with top US officials on Wednesday.

Mr Lee met US Vice-President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, as well as several US lawmakers. US President Barack Obama dropped by during Mr Lee's meeting with Ms Rice.

In their meeting - the third since April last year - Mr Biden thanked Mr Lee for having Singapore take a leading role in "shaping a more peaceful and prosperous South-east Asia", the White House said in a statement.

The two also discussed "mutual concerns over a pattern of destabilising behaviour in the South China Sea", where China has been clashing with South-east Asian nations including Vietnam and the Philippines over competing claims in the potentially energy- rich waters.

Both sides repeated their shared interest in "international law, freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of maritime and territorial disputes", the White House added.

Neither the US nor Singapore takes a stand on the validity of the overlapping claims in the South China Sea. But the US has pointed the finger at China's "destabilising" actions in the waters, which has angered Beijing.

Mr Biden also reiterated the US' commitment to rebalancing towards Asia, which has become a major feature of the Obama administration's foreign policy.

He highlighted US efforts to engage the region, such as through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade pact that will bind 12 nations covering 40 per cent of the global economy, including Singapore and the US. Mr Lee and Mr Biden agreed on the importance of successfully concluding an ambitious, high-standard TPP as soon as possible, the White House statement said.

With Ms Rice, Mr Lee discussed ways the US could engage even more with Asia - including through the TPP - given the strategic and economic importance of the region to the US, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a statement.

Also on Wednesday, Mr Lee met US lawmakers Randy Forbes and Colleen Hanabusa of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces.

They had an extensive discussion on regional strategic and security issues, and reaffirmed the need for a robust and holistic US presence in the Asia-Pacific, the PMO said.

Mr Lee rounded off his afternoon of meetings with a tea hosted by Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), together with other SFRC senators Robert Corker, Benjamin Cardin and Marco Rubio. Mr Cardin is chairman of the SFRC Sub-Committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Mr Lee left Washington on Wednesday evening for New York, where he will launch Temasek Holdings' new office.

PM's meetings in US focus on stronger trade, bilateral ties
Washington's deeper involvement with the Asia-Pacific also discussed
By Fiona Chan Senior Economics Correspondent In Washington, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2014

SINGAPORE'S strong relationship with the United States, and the US' engagement with the Asia-Pacific region, is taking centre stage during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's meetings in Washington, DC.

Mr Lee met US economic and political leaders, including Federal Reserve chairman Janet Yellen, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, during which he welcomed the US' deeper involvement with the Asia-Pacific, including the country's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

In his meeting with Ms Pritzker, the latter also encouraged Singapore companies to find new avenues to invest in the US, as the two countries celebrate the 10th anniversary of their bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).

Direct investments by Singapore companies in the US have jumped more than 10 times in the last decade, from US$2.2 billion in 2003 to US$26.2 billion (S$32.7 billion) in 2012. Singapore was the third-largest Asia-Pacific investor in the US in 2012, behind Japan and Australia.

In 2011, US subsidiaries of Singapore firms employed 36,900 American workers and invested US$306 million in research and development activities in the US.

Trade between Singapore and the US has also grown 70 per cent since 2003 to reach US$67.9 billion in 2012 as a result of the FTA, which is intended as a stepping stone to an eventual free trade area of the Asia-Pacific. The Republic is now the US' largest trading partner in South-east Asia.

Mr Lee's meetings with Ms Pritzker and Mr Lew on Monday touched on the progress of the TPP, the free trade pact between 12 nations that will cover 40 per cent of the global economy once completed.

Last Friday, US President Barack Obama said he hoped a deal could be reached on the TPP by November, though he warned that a lot of work remains. Some sticking points in the talks include the removal of tariffs on agricultural imports into Japan and vehicle imports into the US.

In their meeting, Mr Lee and Ms Pritzker "noted the progress made in the TPP negotiations and the consequential role the TPP plays in the US' engagement of the Asia-Pacific region", according to a statement by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

They also discussed ways to enhance economic ties, not just bilaterally but also between the US and the Asia-Pacific region.

Mr Lee was meeting Ms Pritzker, who became Secretary of Commerce in June last year, for the first time. After the meeting, Ms Pritzker tweeted a picture of herself and Mr Lee, saying the two had a "great meeting". She added: "We value our mutually beneficial economic relationship."

With Mr Lew, Mr Lee exchanged views on regional and international developments, including the global economic and financial outlook and the progress of the TPP talks. Both sides discussed ways to strengthen cooperation between Singapore and the US, said a PMO statement.

On Monday, Mr Lee also met Mr Reid and Senators John McCain and Barbara Mikulski, with whom he discussed regional and international developments and recent events in the US and Singapore. He rounded off the day by meeting former senior US officials, strategic thinkers, congressmen and business leaders.

In a Facebook update last night, Mr Lee said both countries "share many common interests and strong ties" but also "face many challenges".

Quoting former US president Franklin Roosevelt, he added: "The only limit to our realisation of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith."

Yesterday, Mr Lee met the Federal Reserve chairman for the first time since Ms Yellen took the reins at the central bank. They discussed global financial developments, particularly in Asia and Europe, and how these would affect financial markets. His visit to the US continues until tomorrow.

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