SINGAPORE: The significance of the United States is more than “just a set of trade numbers. Instead, it is the free flow of talent and ideas within the economy, as well as the US’ role in international institutions that “really define how great America will be”.
This is according to Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, who was speaking at a lunch dialogue organised by the US-ASEAN Business Council in Washington DC on Wednesday (Mar 20).
About 100 US business leaders and representatives attended the session, which was moderated by former Assistant US Trade Representative Wendy Cutler.
While speaking on how globalisation has created some “common challenges” for countries – such as ensuring a good distribution of the benefits from free trade and tackling the issue of social mobility, Mr Chan said: “I deeply urge all of us in this room to think beyond the trade numbers because what makes America great is not just a set of trade numbers.
“What makes America great is the innovation that is present in this economy, fuelled by the free flow of talent and ideas, fuelled by the energy, the spirit of the American enterprise.”
Mr Chan, who is on a three-day visit to Washington DC, added: “The American leadership in the world is determined by the role they play in the international institutions, to create the rules for the international community to have a predictable, lawful environment to do business. These are the things that really define how great America will be.”
He stressed that countries, be it Singapore or the United States, will need to get their fundamentals right in areas such as education, research and development, and support for an open, rules-based trading system, in order to compete in the next lap of economic development.
While these are the things that will determine the extent a country can go in the “overall contest of nations”, they are “often missed out”, he said.
“It is beyond any single set of numbers, it is a multi-pronged strategy to get our people and businesses ready for tomorrow and that is the greatest strength that America’s leadership can provide for the world.”
Mr Chan was also asked what has been in the way of a conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), in which Singapore is a member, despite major progress last year.
To that, he replied: “As with any trade deal, whether we can come to any conclusion will depend on the objective factors and it will also depend on the political will of all the countries involved.”
A “clearer sight” of the political will would likely emerge in May when elections in four member countries of RCEP – India, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia – are over.
Still, Mr Chan said “the gaps are narrowing” and is hopeful that the world’s largest trade pact has a fair chance of conclusion this year.
DEEPER PARTNERSHIP ON INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT
On the sidelines of Mr Chan’s visit, Singapore and the United States signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) aimed at strengthening collaboration between the infrastructure agencies of both countries – Singapore’s Infrastructure Asia and the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).
The MOU will allow Singapore-based and US firms to better tap on development and financing opportunities and unlock the Asia region’s potential, said a press release from MTI.
“Both countries will work together on information sharing, deal facilitation, structuring and capacity building initiatives in sectors of mutual interest such as energy, natural resource management, water, waste, transportation, and urban development," said MTI.
The MOU was signed by MTI’s deputy secretary of trade Luke Goh and OPIC’s acting president and CEO David Bohigian. Mr Chan was not present at the signing.
The US is Singapore’s third-largest trading partner in goods and top trading partner in services. It is also Singapore’s largest foreign direct investor by country.