PM Lee pushes for open skies

PM Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching arriving in Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei.

Today, many more Americans surf in Bali and Asians trek in Machu Picchu than in 1994, when Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders last met in Indonesia, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday as he urged all 21 economies in the group to push on with efforts to improve connectivity.

The end goal should be open skies, which typically means more flights between countries.

Mr Lee's push for improved air links was made while he addressed Apec leaders at a closed-door retreat.

Air travel in the region is expected to triple by 2030 as incomes rise and flights get cheaper. The industry will employ 45 million workers and contribute US$3.2 trillion (S$4 trillion) in gross domestic product (GDP).

Singapore, given its status as an international air and logistics hub, can tap into this, Mr Lee told Singapore reporters later yesterday. "We hope that there will be opportunities for us - if you can develop projects, or if you can develop air links. Aviation is an important interest of ours."

Mr Lee cited three other ways for Apec to keep regional cooperation up to date, so as to thrive amid global changes.

First, enhance the trade in services. Mr Lee pointed out that reducing trade costs in services by 10 per cent could grow GDP by US$100 billion.

Apec must also continue progress towards the eventual goal of building a free trade area across the Asia-Pacific.

Finally, it should launch new schemes to meet future needs. He cited the Regional Funds Passport, which would allow cross-border issuing of funds across participating economies, and pave the way for increased regional trade in financial products.

On Tuesday, Mr Lee also attended an informal conversation with representatives from Kiribati, the Solomon Islands and Fiji.

In the evening, he left Bali for Bandar Seri Begawan to attend the Asean and East Asia summits.

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