PM's meeting in US focus on stronger trade, bilateral ties

PM's meeting in US focus on stronger trade, bilateral ties

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.

This article was first published on June 25, 2014.
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