The conclusion of an ambitious 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is coming into focus, leaders of the 12 economies involved, including Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, indicated yesterday.
Although the pact looks set to miss its targeted deadline of the end of this year, the leaders have made its conclusion "a top priority so that our businesses, workers, farmers and consumers can start to reap the real and substantial benefits as soon as possible".
They issued a joint statement after meeting ahead of the annual Apec summit here yesterday.
The deal has been stuck on how far countries such as Japan will open up to farm exports, while significant domestic resistance has built up in the United States.
The TPP is also seen as competing with another trade deal being negotiated in the Asia-Pacific region - the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership - which, unlike the TPP, includes China. Singapore is part of both.
Yesterday, the TPP leaders downplayed the rivalry, saying that they were committed to a pact that can include "other regional partners" which are prepared to adopt its high standards.
At a separate session with the Apec Business Advisory Council, Mr Lee told business leaders that he saw the TPP and other regional trade pacts as complementary steps towards a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).
Mr Lee welcomed the direction towards establishing the FTAAP, which China has set as a target for the Apec meetings, said Singapore Business Federation chairman Teo Siong Seng, who was present.
China wanted to set a timeline for realising the FTAAP by 2025, but backed down from the target due to US reluctance to shift focus away from a TPP deal.
On his second day in China, Mr Lee also met Singapore youth and had bilateral talks with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala.
The two leaders discussed regional trade issues and opportunities for partnership, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Last night, Beijing Satellite TV aired a special interview in Mandarin with Mr Lee by well-known talk-show host Yang Lan.
Asked about anti-corruption, one of the issues on Apec's agenda, Mr Lee said an uncorrupt political and business environment is part of Singapore's competitive advantage. "Other countries want to do this too, but to turn around the entire atmosphere and system is not an easy thing. That is why I respect what President Xi (Jinping) is doing now in China, with his campaign to catch 'tigers and flies'," he said, referring to Mr Xi's avowed aim to nab low- and high-ranking corrupt officials.
The world is watching Mr Xi's wide-ranging anti-graft campaign, he said, adding that its success will be a boon to China's development and stability.
On the strength of China's economy, he said the most important issue was not its gross domestic product growth digit, but whether China can complete structural economic reforms.
This article was first published on Nov 11, 2014.
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