The United States risks being marginalised in the Asia-Pacific if ongoing free trade talks fail.
That was the message Singapore Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam brought to his meetings with US government officials and lawmakers over the past week.
While he noted that there were differing opinions on how the US can move forward with negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, he also said there was strong understanding in Congress and the White House of its importance.
"The real question is, can the US afford not to be in the TPP and not be fully engaged in trade because there are other trading arrangements that are in place and are going to be upgraded. Asia will move," he told reporters at the end of his visit to Washington on Thursday.
"That was my central message and I think everyone understood that. Of course, the systems within the United States dictate a certain course of action and time will be taken, elections are coming up, so those sorts of issues might affect the timetable a little bit."
The White House's bargaining position has been hurt by the unwillingness of Congress to extend the trade promotion authority (TPA) to the President. This would force Congress to subject whatever deal made to a straight vote, without filing amendments.
Mid-term elections are due in November and most say it is unlikely cautious lawmakers would vote on the issue before then.
Said Mr Shanmugam: "Some felt the TPA was absolutely necessary, some felt this is one of those cases where it could go to a straight vote. Many of my interlocutors were saying to me that maybe TPA is possible later, so there are different approaches to it."