At a leaders’ retreat at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on Sunday, November 18, Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, underlined the importance of leadership from Asia-Pacific economies amidst tensions due to free trade and multilateralism.
Papua New Guinea is this year’s host for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
PM Lee said, “We can set the global direction and encourage others to follow our example of working together, rather than of going it alone.”
The topics of the leaders’ retreat were the future of the digital economy and present global challenges. Singapore’s Prime Minister emphasized that APEC is well able to do more in shaping progressive digital trade rules for emerging areas in the digital domain, including digital identity and e-payments.
Tracing back APEC’s roots 29 years ago as an informal meeting of 12 economies with shared perspectives who believed in an integrated and flourishing Asia-Pacific region, he noted that APEC now includes 21 member nations and expressed the hope that the group would work together in order to liberalize trade.
He also mentioned how tariffs in the region are now only one-third of what they were when APEC was founded, and that it is well on its way toward reaching the investment and free trade goals set in 1994 in Bogor, Indonesia.
The Prime Minister then made an appeal to his fellow leaders to continue their efforts to form the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), a long-range aim for linking Pacific Rim countries and smoothen out different bilateral and regional free trade agreements, citing that the the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), coming in December, as an “encouraging development”.
He also said that other integration initiatives in the region are also welcome.
Last week, ASEAN nations, along with six other countries, said they would reach an agreement n the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in 2019.
Concerning the digital economy around the globe, Lee said that APEC can have a positive influence. Cross-border transactions today, he said, have a digital component, for example, internet connectivity, data management, or cybersecurity.
Therefore, small enterprises are now micro-multinationals, because of companies such as Alibaba and Amazon Digital, and the participants in the digital economy have greatly increased.
However, this means that trade rules must also be updated to accommodate more consumers and transaction. And while Singapore, Australia, and Japan co-convene an initiative from the World Trade Organisation to develop new e-commerce rules, APEC can step in to advocate standards as well.
“These progressive digital trade rules will support SMEs’ digitalization efforts, and also facilitate investments by the big players, global digital companies. Our goal of a productive, innovative, and sustainable digital economy is entirely achievable.”
Lee made these remarks in spite of the failure of the APEC forum to issue a joint communique. This is the first time that the group has not done so since it began in 1989. Instead, the chairman will be issuing a statement.
The Prime Minister said that the United States and China must come to the realization that each nation has to accommodate the other. “We all have to hope it goes in a constructive direction. Because otherwise, the loss to the parties, to America and China, as well as to other countries like Singapore and everybody else in the region and in the world will be considerable.”
He noted that the next step will be dependent on the meeting later this month at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires when US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet.