Saturday 21 November 2015

TPP offers new opportunities, negative impact will be muted: PM Lee

APEC‬ Economic Leaders’ Meeting 2015
By Chong Zi Liang, In Manila, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2015

The landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact will provide Singapore with new opportunities and access to fresh markets, while the negative impact will be muted, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

The reason is: Singapore already has free trade agreements with all the TPP countries except Canada and Mexico. Also, the new deal will extend Singapore's previously established commitments to the entire bloc, he added.

But its impact will be greater for countries that have to remove high tariffs or those with sensitive sectors, such as agriculture in Japan and automobiles in the US.

"So those are the ones where there will be very visible winners and losers," said Mr Lee during a press conference with the Singapore media at the end of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Meeting.

For Singapore, "it means export markets... more opportunities".

The TPP, he said, was the main achievement of his trip to Manila. Leaders of the 12 nations in the trade pact met for the first time on the sidelines of the APEC Leaders' Meeting since their officials concluded the TPP negotiations last month.

"There was a little bit of celebration," Mr Lee added. He also said the TPP members had committed themselves to signing and ratifying the trade deal as soon as they could.

But before it can come into force, the TPP has to be approved by lawmakers in each member country. US President Barack Obama has strongly backed the deal but several prominent Congressmen are opposed to it.

Mr Lee said he hoped the TPP would pass the US Congress before the US presidential election season starts in February. There is "not a very big window" of time for Congress to ratify it, he added.

As for countries that are looking at joining the TPP, the Prime Minister said it will be "several years down the road at the very earliest". The reason is that the process for getting the TPP implemented has yet to completed. "I don't see the next round starting until that has happened," he said.

South Korea has expressed interest while Indonesia is considering it.

Singapore favours expanding the TPP but countries must consider if it is economically and politically viable for them to do so, he said.

Had productive meetings at the #APEC Summit in Manila over the past two days. First the leaders of the Trans-Pacific...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday, November 19, 2015

As a conclusion of the 2015 #APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, Leaders from 21 APEC member economies collectively agree to...
Posted by APEC - Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation on Friday, November 20, 2015

Educate public on TPP's benefits, says PM Lee
Share gains widely and help those hurt by increased competition, he urges leaders
By Chong Zi Liang, In Manila, The Straits Times, 19 Nov 2015

Getting people to come around to accepting the benefits of the landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is one of the key challenges facing the governments of the 12 countries in the trade pact.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was among the leaders of these Pacific Rim nations who yesterday underlined the importance of educating the man on the street about the TPP to see its ultimate benefits.

Success in convincing the people that it will grow the economic pie all round will coax people to undertake the economic reforms that are inevitable when trade barriers come down, he said.

He was speaking at a closed-door meeting of the 12 countries' leaders, ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Meeting. It was their first meeting since the countries' officials concluded talks on the TPP.

His speech, made available to the Singapore media, urged the leaders to ensure its benefits are shared widely and to help those hurt by the increased competition.

"Taken by itself, the TPP will be a net plus for each country although there will surely be winners and losers within each country," he said.

Much work needs to be done before and after the TPP becomes a reality, the leaders said.

The TPP is a wide-ranging free trade pact and its members include the United States and Japan. Its critics say it seeks to benefit companies more than citizens.

But Mr Lee had noted earlier this week that it will save Singapore an estimated $1 billion a year in tariffs when it takes effect.

He said that Singapore stands ready to sign the agreement and hopes it will come into effect in two years' time.

But, he added: "I think not all countries' ratification will be as simple a process, but having come thus far, we should press on."

US President Barack Obama, who chaired the meeting, has actively sought domestic support for the TPP but many prominent congressmen oppose it.

He told the meeting: "We want all countries to pursue their interests and prosperity peacefully based on common rules on an open, level playing field."

Canada's new Prime Minister, Mr Justin Trudeau, has reservations and recently said that it will be reviewed in Parliament before a decision is made.

Mr Lee urged Canada to endorse it, saying the TPP was one way to boost their bilateral ties.

He noted that Canada is one of two TPP countries currently without a free trade agreement with Singapore.

Citing the case of Singapore, Mr Lee said that it has one of the most open economies in the world and has had to restructure, reform, and change industries and improve skills time and again.

For instance, Singapore was once one of the biggest disk drive makers in the world.

But when it was no longer cost competitive, the industry moved to Vietnam, Thailand and China.

"But within Singapore, after a period of restructuring, we were able to reskill the affected workers to do other jobs, not just in electronics, and we kept a full employment economy which keeps on growing, having transitioned from one industry, one technology into another," Mr Lee said.

"And so, too, we must do, all of us, with the TPP," he added.

The TPP should also be viewed as one pathway to achieving the APEC members' larger goal of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

But the TPP is not the last word in trade liberalisation, he said, noting other pacts in discussion, like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

This 16-nation partnership involves all 10 Asean members and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

There is also the Pacific Alliance trade bloc comprising four South American countries bordering the Pacific Ocean.

"They each have their pluses and minuses, but I think they each have their part to play," Mr Lee said.

The TPP, he added, should welcome new members.

Indonesia's Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said at an earlier APEC session that his country was still studying the impact of joining the TPP.

Mr Kalla also said Indonesia would work to ensure that global trade was not just free, but also fair.

FAMILY PHOTO: Leaders and representatives from the 21 APEC member-economies are in Manila, The Philippines, for the 2015...
Posted by APEC - Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Obama in push for climate pact, trade deal
By Raul Dancel,  Philippines Correspondent In Manila, The Straits Times, 19 Nov 2015

US President Barack Obama yesterday sought to build momentum behind a legacy-burnishing trade pact and an ambitious climate change agreement.

In talks on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit here, Mr Obama said the Trans- Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal "is not only good economically but also reflects our common values".

"TPP is at the heart of our shared vision for the future of this dynamic region," he said.

Twelve nations have already signed up for the US-led trade deal, which aims to liberalise trade for 40 per cent of the global economy.

But the TPP faces stiff opposition from both Democrats and Republicans over farm tariffs and protection for pharmaceuticals, and is unlikely to be voted on by the US Congress before Mr Obama leaves office.

But the US leader said he was confident the deal would be ratified.

"There has not been a trade deal that has been done in modern American politics that is not occasionally challenging, but we get it done, and I'm confident we are going to be able to get it done," he said.

Mr Obama is also wrestling with China, which is pushing for a broader trade agreement: the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

China is pointedly excluded from the TPP, part of Washington's attempt to ramp up influence in the region with its "pivot" to Asia.

Making his own case, Chinese President Xi Jinping, also in Manila for the APEC summit, said the FTAAP would prevent a "fragmentation" of the world economy.

"We must build an open economy… We must commit ourselves to win-win cooperation of post-protectionism and promote fair competition," he told an APEC business forum.

Mr Obama, meanwhile, also pressed for the conclusion of an "ambitious framework" to cut greenhouse gas emissions during the two-week United Nations climate change conference set to begin on Nov 30 in Paris.

"If we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change before it's too late, the time to act is now… We have to come together around an ambitious framework (in Paris) to protect the one planet that we have while we still can," he told business leaders at the APEC CEO Summit.

At least 160 countries representing 90 per cent of global emissions have put forward targets after 2020.

"But we have a lot of work to do," said Mr Obama.

Urging business leaders to invest in ways to cut harmful carbon emissions, Mr Obama said climate change "is a challenge and also an opportunity".

Members of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) struck a deal early this week to restrict subsidies used to export technology for coal-fired power plants, ending months of wrangling.

'Open up service sector to integrate economies'
By Chong Zi Liang In Manila, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday called on countries in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to open up their service industry to further integrate their economies.

While such a move is not easy, PM Lee suggested the countries start by focusing on sectors that will smoothen trade flow, such as telecommunications and logistics.

He cited two instances when making his call at a session of the APEC Leaders' Meeting on the integration of economies.

One is that improving supply chains through swifter air transport will benefit the perishable goods business.

The other is that easing services that can be done digitally, such as financial, insurance, legal and accounting services, will let businesses operate more easily.

But such changes do not mean removing altogether a country's domestic regulation, said Mr Lee. It is still necessary to set rules according to each nation's priorities.

He said: "We are talking about efficiency, transparency and consistency in implementing regulations, and not allowing regulations to become a non-transparent opaque way of cooperation."

He praised the Philippines, the meeting's host, for developing the APEC Services Cooperation Framework that will establish a road map for a comprehensive liberalising of the service industry.

United States President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun Hye made similar calls for freeing up the service sector. Services account for more than half of APEC's total gross domestic product of US$45 trillion (S$64 trillion).

Later, Mr Lee, at a press conference with the Singapore media, said the issue is complex as it involves concerns such as foreign labour influx, standards and rules recognising qualifications.

The leaders, as a result, did not go into details but talked about it in principle. But he added: "If you're talking about integrating economies, you must find a way to move services into the framework."

It will bring new markets and big opportunities for Singapore as services, ranging from transport to banking, make up about 80 per cent of its economy.

Mr Lee, in his speech at the Leaders' Meeting, also noted that 2015 is a "milestone year for regional economic integration".

Among the achievements are the Australia-Japan Free Trade Agreement that came into force and the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact with members such as the US, Japan and Singapore.

Over this weekend, Asean leaders meeting in Kuala Lumpur will sign the declaration for an Asean Community to further boost economic cooperation.

"I hope we can keep up the momentum because they are pathways to realising an eventual Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which will give APEC substance, purpose and also benefit our countries," he said.

But there are multiple routes to realising the FTAAP, said Mr Lee.

They include the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which involves 16 countries - all 10 Asean members plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The RCEP has not fully fulfilled its potential, said Mr Lee.

"We should double our efforts to level the RCEP up to other pathways like the TPP, both in pace and in substance, so that we can achieve truly regional economic integration," he added.

Turn longevity into a positive force: PM Lee
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday urged world leaders to see the ageing population as a force that can power economies.

Amid the challenges longevity imposes on fast-ageing societies, it also brings opportunities when viewed in a friendlier way.

Longer lives mean more time for people to achieve their goals and aspirations. For economies, it could mean tapping the elderly for the workforce, especially with falling birth rates, he told fellow world leaders in Manila.

"Some fear that this will be a silver tsunami which will overwhelm us... but there are also opportunities in longevity," he said at the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders' Meeting in Manila.

"We need to... turn longevity into a positive force for economic and social development."

He was speaking about the challenges that ageing can pose to inclusive growth, a theme of the summit.

Populations around the world are ageing rapidly, with people living longer and having fewer babies. A World Economic Forum report on ageing says the number of people aged 60 and older will hit two billion by 2050, making up 22 per cent of the world population.

In Singapore, one in five people will be 65 and older by 2030.

These changes will have a profound economic and social impact on societies, said PM Lee, adding that concerns about burdening the young and taxing healthcare and fiscal systems are valid.

Yet, opportunities abound for societies willing to transform and adapt, he said.

Mr Lee outlined how Singapore is working to be more age-friendly. First, by helping seniors stay active and healthy for longer; second, by providing adequate safety nets in housing, retirement adequacy and healthcare for seniors who may need extra help; and third, by improving physical infrastructure with lifts, among others, for seniors to move about independently and freely.

A $3 billion plan was unveiled in August to help Singaporeans age confidently and lead active lives.

He cited initiatives such as further raising the re-employment age to 67 and the Government giving firms financial incentives to make jobs and workplaces more senior-friendly.

"Many people in their 60s tell me 'If I sit at home and do nothing, I will soon go blank and ga-ga. I need to work longer. I want to work longer'."

On safety nets, he cited Medi- Shield Life, the lifelong universal healthcare insurance for large hospitalisation expenses.

"By doing this, we can minimise the burden of ageing and maximise the contributions that old people can make, and make sure they feel they are an inclusive part of society and strengthen our resilient community," he said.

Later, at a press conference with the Singapore media, Mr Lee said tensions may develop between the young and the old.

But he has this advice: "If we take it as we're all young today, we will all be old one day, then I think you will be more empathetic of the other person's needs and more willing to chip in and do your part."

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