Pacific Rim free trade zone crucial for Apec: PM Lee

Pacific Rim free trade zone crucial for Apec: PM Lee

BEIJING - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has voiced his support for a proposed Pacific Rim free trade zone that China is pushing for at the upcoming Apec summit, amid talk of US opposition.

In an interview with the Apec secretariat published yesterday, PM Lee said the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) is "a crucial step" that the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) grouping must take as multiple regional economic architectures are evolving.

These include the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is led by the United States but excludes China. Beijing in turn is leading the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which excludes Washington.

Singapore is involved in both initiatives, which have overlapping memberships and are seen as proxy battles for Asia-Pacific supremacy between China and the United States.

Citing other trade initiatives such as the China-Japan-Korea FTA, Mr Lee, who will be attending the Apec Leaders' Summit on Tuesday, said: "The FTAAP is necessary to anchor the Apec economies in one broad architecture, based on the multiple pathways of these other FTAs."

The FTAAP - not a new idea since it was broached in 2004 and formally entered into the Apec agenda in 2006 - has attracted much attention in the lead-up to the biggest multilateral event that Chinese President Xi Jinping is hosting since taking power in late 2012.

Media reports suggest that China has had to drop its proposals to launch a "feasibility study" and to set a 2025 deadline for the FTAAP under pressure from the US, which fears that it may derail the TPP talks process.

Referring to the FTAAP and the connectivity blueprint that will chart ways to improve transport links between Apec economies, PM Lee said China has planned deliverables at the upcoming Apec summit that are "significant" to Singapore.

He added that the Beijing summit is an opportunity for Apec members to reaffirm their commitment to, and make efforts to realise, the 2020 Bogor Goals, which were set in 1994 in the Indonesian city for free and open trade and investment by 2010 for developed economies and by 2020 for developing economies.

As he looked back at Singapore's involvement with Apec and his role as head of a Singapore delegation at a meeting in 1989 that launched the group, Mr Lee expressed optimism that Apec had "a lot more to offer" in the next 25 years.

He also outlined how Singapore had benefited as an Apec member, citing how the grouping accounted for almost 75 per cent of Singapore's total trade last year.

"Sixty-three per cent of Singapore's outward investment was into Apec economies. Apec economies' investment was more than a quarter of the total investments into Singapore in 2012," he noted.

"Singapore depends heavily on our trade, investment and political links with regional economies.

"Our membership in Apec is essential to our prosperity and well-being," he added.

But Singapore has also contributed to Apec's success, he said, noting how it had hosted the Apec secretariat for more than 20 years.

He also recalled how Singapore, as host of the Apec Summit in 2009 amid an unprecedented global recession, had "developed initiatives that we hoped would be valuable and relevant to Apec not just in 2009, but over several years".

This article was first published on November 6, 2014.
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