Asean must move on from death of TPP, forge new paths to economic integration: Lim Hng Kiang

SINGAPORE – Asean will continue to offer strong economic opportunities, with the Republic in a plum position to benefit, Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang told the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (AmCham Singapore) and other business representatives on Tuesday (Sept 12).

He said that there is “strong political will” to forge ahead with regional trade agreements, in spite of US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

Ties between the regional bloc and the United States must also deepen, with Mr Lim adding that the Republic has tangible goals to improve connectivity as it gears up to take on chairmanship in 2018.

“A more economically integrated region will bring opportunities for our businesses and citizens, through the elimination of tariffs and preferential access in these markets.”

Alternatives to the TPP include a deal among its remaining 11 members, as well as the planned Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership among Asean, China, Japan, South Korea, India and New Zealand.

While Singapore had hopes to benefit from the original TPP, Mr Lim said: “We are all adults and we have to move on.”

Also in the pipeline for Asean are regional trade rules on e-commerce and working towards a single customs window, boosting market access and lowering costs.

“Particularly in this increasingly digitalised global environment, we will need to work together to leverage our strengths, learn from each other’s best practices and streamline our regulatory regimes to enhance the opportunities for business,” said Mr Lim.

He noted that US foreign direct investment in Asean hit US$306 billion (S$411.9 billion) in 2016, with Singapore taking the lion’s share of US$258 billion.

Still, challenges include the need for more sectorally targeted approaches to keep the Singapore economy nimble, as well as the dwindling local labour force as workers retire.

“So we have to work more vigorously on the quality and productivity of our workforce,” Mr Lim said, during a question-and-answer session moderated by AmCham board of governors chairman Dwight Hutchins of consulting firm Accenture.