BEIJING: Given the need to uphold the current rules-based trading system, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) should continue to be an "open platform" that allows free flow of trade and investments, said Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing on Thursday (Apr 25).
To do so, enhancements in areas, such as data connectivity, will be necessary. Mr Chan was speaking at a thematic forum on trade connectivity, held as part of the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.
"The BRI should continue to be an open platform through which trade and investments can flow freely and seamlessly," he said.
After focusing on infrastructure connectivity over the last five years, the China-led infrastructure plan should be enhanced with the "softer" aspects of trade connectivity, such as data, talent, technology and finance.
According to Mr Chan, this can be done by leveraging comparative advantages and seeking synergy with partners, while strengthening trade facilitation and enhancing data connectivity.
For the former, he cited the example of the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI) – a joint project between Singapore and China with an international land-sea transport connectivity (CCI-ILSTC) that provides a direct and shorter trade route from Western China to Southeast Asia.
"As an open and inclusive network, the CCI-ILSTC has evolved from promoting point-to-point connectivity to region-to-region connectivity. It has also effectively cut the shipping time between the two regions by two-thirds," he said.
In the same speech, Mr Chan urged all countries to uphold the global trading system.
Governments must resist the rise of anti-globalisation and nativism so as to make way for greater economic integration, he said.
Global trade rules, such as those of the World Trade Organisation, should also be updated to keep pace with the new realities of the global economy, particularly in the area of digital economy.
Mr Chan also called for help to be given to domestic businesses and workers to help them adjust, rather than resist, changes “that are inevitable and necessary”.
“An inclusive, open and rules-based trade architecture has been the bedrock of our economic development and success in the past few decades, lifting millions out of poverty and growing a substantial middle income class," he said.
"We have a shared interest to uphold this system that has brought us prosperity and progress all these years."
At another forum on Thursday where he spoke about policy connectivity, Mr Chan stressed the need for joint responsibility as one of the three guiding principles to bring BRI’s projects to the next phase.
"We all have the shared duty to ensure that the projects adhere to market discipline and steer clear of non-economic considerations," he said. "There must be clear accountability, transparency and value for money for the public."
Projects will also need to adhere to the rule of law so as to generate business confidence, while long-term financial and environmental sustainability must be considered.
The latter will encourage “healthier risk management, and create more prudent and viable projects”, said Mr Chan. “This would ensure that the success of the BRI projects serve, not just the current, but also the future generations.”
Sustainability was also a key message from Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, who spoke at another thematic forum dubbed the Green Silk Road Forum.
While Asia as a whole has made tremendous progress over the decades, its rate of consumption and production has become unsustainable.
"Our planet’s resources are finite but our population is growing, with strong urbanisation pressures. Climate change is posing new risks," said Mr Masagos, who stressed the need to build sustainably and innovatively, while forging partnerships.
The BRI’s International Green Development Coalition is an important and timely initiative.
"It brings countries together to deliberate on how we can develop sustainably, and deliver tangible benefits for our peoples and planet," he added.
“We have to jointly explore how this can be done in a manner that balances social, economic and environmental objective."
On Thursday, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon also shared his views at another thematic forum on how to unlock the potential of infrastructure connectivity and achieve economic growth.
The ministers are in Beijing as part of the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Belt and Road Forum. The summit will officially open on Friday.