HANOI: Even as the United States has pulled out from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), both Singapore and Vietnam are “watching how things will develop” on the trade pact, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, at the end of his visit to Vietnam on Friday (Mar 24).
The future of the 12-nation free trade deal has been hanging in the balance since the Trump administration’s withdrawal in January.
“Singapore is proceeding with the ratification. I think Vietnam has deferred their ratification but they are watching to see how the other partners play it going forward and what the Americans definitely will do,” Mr Lee added.
In a separate statement, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Trade and Industry referred to a recent meeting of TPP parties in Chile, during which "Singapore said that we hope to harvest the benefits of the agreement in a timely way, and look forward to working with the others to making this happen, including continuing with preparation for domestic ratification.”
The spokesperson added that TPP ministers will be meeting again at the sidelines of the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) meeting in May.
While Vietnam had been touted as the economy likely to benefit the most from the TPP, Mr Lee nonetheless highlighted the importance of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade deal between the ten ASEAN countries and six others, including Japan, Australia, India and China.
“On the RCEP, I encourage Vietnam to take a forward-leaning approach; because the TPP is important but it’s not the only way of promoting trade liberalisation. The RCEP is another important path and we hope we will have a substantive RCEP,” Mr Lee said.
In Hanoi, the Singapore leader also pushed for the liberalisation of air services in talks with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
There are around 20 daily flights between Singapore and Vietnam’s three cities, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Danang. Last year, visitor numbers from Vietnam to Singapore saw a 12 per cent increase on-year to more than 450,000, while Singapore visitors to Vietnam reached about 250,000, a nearly 9 per cent increase from the year before.
“I made the pitch to (Prime Minister Phuc) that we should enhance the air services agreement,” Mr Lee said. “We should also look at fifth and sixth freedoms, beyond the two countries, because that will develop the traffic and develop the business further.
"He was receptive, so we will talk to their officials,” he added.
Mr Lee’s Vietnam visit sealed a string of business deals including possible plans for another Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park in Quang Tri and a software park in Danang, both provinces in central Vietnam.
Singapore bank UOB was also given the preliminary green light to expand its branch network in the country.
In response to a question from reporters, Mr Lee also commented on Wednesday’s terror attack in London.
He said Singapore is on guard, but there is no fool-proof protection against terrorism.
“Nobody can say it will never happen in Singapore," he said. "If it does happen, we have to have that fortitude and resilience and unity to say this is a bad thing that has happened; let’s find out what the background was and what we need to do, but at the same time, carry on with our lives. Tomorrow is another day and Singapore survives.”