Singapore banks have 'good propositions' for Myanmar: PM Lee

NAY PYI TAW - As Myanmar continues its reforms and develops its financial sector, it should consider the benefits of letting Singapore banks operate there, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Singapore banks will have "good propositions" to offer, he told reporters after the 24th ASEAN summit and a bilateral meeting with Myanmar President Thein Sein. "Myanmar is going to be developing their financial sector, and they will have to continue issuing licences to foreign banks... The Singapore banks will be in the queue. And we hope they will be considered seriously."

Mr Lee also hopes Singapore's investments in and trade with Myanmar will grow over time, and that the two countries can continue to work together.

With foreign investor interest growing since Myanmar opened up, Singapore has signed a memorandum to run a vocational training institute to help build up for its economic zones a pool of skilled workers, which it needs in "huge numbers", Mr Lee said.

Earlier at a plenary session with ASEAN leaders, Mr Lee called for a redoubling of efforts to integrate the grouping's 10 economies and accelerate community building. He urged leaders to find the political will to tackle the remaining issues as ASEAN bids to launch its economic community by 2015.

With more than 70 per cent of the targets achieved, he said the "remaining issues are difficult and sensitive, but offer most benefits for our peoples and businesses".

These include trade in services, trade facilitation, and the removal of non-tariff barriers.

Beyond that, a post-2015 vision for ASEAN should build on the foundation set out in the ASEAN Community blueprints and "be bold and ahead of the curve".

But ASEAN should be cautious about adding dialogue partners, Mr Lee said. There are currently 10 such partners including China, Japan and the US. "We should be careful about expanding ASEAN, given our major priorities within ASEAN and resource constraints."

He called for a speeding up of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - a trade pact involving ASEAN and six partner economies including China and India.

ASEAN must show leadership and adopt creative approaches where needed, he said, as Singapore prepares to host the fifth round of the RCEP negotiations next month. He hopes countries will be able to settle a basic framework of using a positive or negative list in the trade negotiations when they meet in Singapore.

A positive list means countries negotiate based only on items that have been agreed on, while a negative list is more challenging, as it means everything is on the table except for items on the list. Mr Lee said he hopes "to have this done by the end of the next year".

This article was published on May 12 in The Straits Times.

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