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US ambassador says partisan politics not affecting US global outlook

Partisan politics in the United States causes "hiccups from time to time" but it will not affect the US government's global trade relations, Ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar said.

SINGAPORE: Partisan politics in the United States causes "hiccups from time to time" but it will not affect the US government's global trade relations, Ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar said.

Mr Wagar, who took up his post in Singapore last September, was giving his first policy address on Friday.

A government shutdown and a cancelled trip by President Barack Obama in 2013 raised doubts about the US role in Asia.

Mr Wagar said: "My personal opinion after doing politics for 20 years is, there're a lot of these little skirmishes but the reality is our country is looking out, looking forward, and we are forced because of our economy to continue to look out and work with our international partners. We have to.

"Look at the recent trade deals, the votes were bipartisan. Look at the recent stories on trade promotion authority -- all of these things, you're not going to find partisanship affecting the global stuff."

In an hour-long session hosted by the Singapore Press Club, the ambassador took questions on a wide range of subjects -- from China's rising influence to human trafficking.

An annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report by the US government described Singapore as a destination country for human trafficking.

Mr Wagar said one objective of the report is to "start a conversation".

He elaborated: "There's been a great transition over the last few years in Singapore about protecting people who have really not had that voice before. Did the US have a role in that conversation? I don't know. But we were there. And I think that Singapore and the US are going to continue to work forward, because those are our values.”

A lawyer and political fundraiser -- he was finance chairman for both President Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns in Florida -- Mr Wagar was born in Canada and became a US citizen in 2004.

The ambassador said more than once in the one-hour session on Friday that he values candid discussion.

He told the audience that Singapore officials let him know, quietly and respectfully, when they believe the US is moving in the wrong direction.

Mr Wagar said he will do the same, whether it is an issue of security, human rights, or individual freedoms.

But he was clear about his communication style.

Mr Wagar said: "I think particularly as an immigrant in the United States, the last thing that this ambassador is going to do, is lecture a sovereign country about what they need to do for their own development. What we can do is talk about things that are important to us, the values that are important to us.

“I love debate, and frankly our entire embassy is very candid, but we got to be careful about thinking we know best."

Mr Wagar is the second ambassador to Singapore appointed by President Obama.

More than 2,000 American companies have set up shop in Singapore, many of them regional headquarters. 

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