BEIJING: Recent “radically different” trade measures by the United States have put pressure on its relations with China and other countries, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Apr 8).
In an interview with the People’s Daily as part of a working visit to China, Mr Lee said that while the US has been a longstanding advocate of free trade and economic multilateralism, it has recently taken specific steps to protect its domestic industries and reduce its large bilateral trade deficits.
“Globalisation and international trade have underpinned the growth and prosperity of many countries, including Singapore and China. But in some countries, the political mood is shifting against them,” Mr Lee said.
“If unilateral and tit-for-tat actions escalate into trade wars, the multilateral trading system that has brought countries prosperity for decades will be severely undermined. There will be no winners in a trade war,” he added.
In further comments in answer to a question about regional trade arrangements, Mr Lee noted that China’s economy has developed greatly since 2001 when it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). Since then, China has committed to and benefitted from abiding by multilateral rules, including submitting to WTO dispute settlement mechanisms.
“China’s share of global GDP and trade volume have also increased dramatically. It is therefore natural that other countries expect China to take on more commitments and contribute more to the global system, by further opening market access for trade in goods and services, and liberalising rules for foreign investments into China,” Mr Lee said.
He added that these steps would better match China’s present stage of development. China can do so on a multilateral basis, or through free trade agreements (FTAs) with regional partners.
Mr Lee highlighted the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which was renamed after the withdrawal of the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is a proposed FTA spearheaded by the ten ASEAN member states and involving six major trading partners, including China.
Mr Lee said that these two agreements will boost economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region and promote a seamless flow of goods, services and business that will benefit all countries.
“The CPTPP, which was recently signed, is an open and inclusive agreement. We welcome China, and others, to join the CPTPP when they are ready,” Mr Lee said.
“We also hope that the RCEP can be concluded soon. … If we can sign the RCEP this year, it will, together with the CPTPP, send a clear signal to the world about our commitment to multilateral trade, and our resolve to keep the regional architecture open and inclusive,” he added.
Mr Lee’s latest visit to China comes after its 19th Party Congress and “Lianghui”, the annual meetings of the national legislature and the top political advisory meeting held last month.
“These meetings set strategic directions for China’s development and foreign policy in a new era. China will play a growing role in regional and global issues. Singapore will continue to support China’s constructive participation in the regional architecture as well as the international system,” Mr Lee said.
He described the two countries’ relations as strong and that there has been “win-win cooperation” over a wide range of issues including trade and investment to social governance.