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Apec still a distance away from achieving goal of free and open trade: Lim Hng Kiang

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Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is still a distance away from achieving its goal of free and open trade, but economic integration should continue to remain the 21-member forum's priority, Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade), Lim Hng Kiang, said on Monday.

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is still a distance away from achieving its goal of free and open trade, but economic integration should continue to remain the 21-member forum's priority, Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade), Lim Hng Kiang, said on Monday.

Speaking at the 2017 Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC)-Singapore Conference, Mr Lim reminded the audience that APEC's vision was to promote growth through greater economic cooperation and integration across the Asia Pacific.

But, APEC is at an inflection point.

"Amidst a backdrop of sluggish growth and concerns about unemployment, income inequality and immigration, anti-trade sentiments have been on the rise. There is also a growing notion that globalisation has failed,'' Mr Lim said, noting that the benefits from globalisation have not been distributed evenly.

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"However, we should not make globalization the scapegoat for slowing growth and unemployment. Closing borders and turning inward is not the answer,'' he stressed.

As economies are so interdependent these days, it would be very difficult to disconnect from the global value-chain. Doing so will result in shrinking markets and fewer job creation. At the end, consumers will have to bear higher costs and will have fewer choices.

"Greater cooperation amongst economies and keeping markets open are the best ways to boost growth and create jobs. Thus, economic integration should continue to remain APEC's priority,'' he said.

The realisation of the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) should continue to be key to APEC's agenda as the FTAAP embodies APEC's original vision for regional economic integration and contributes to the realisation of free and open trade.

Governments need to equip their people with the right skill sets and invest in education and training. He noted that APEC has made good headway on initiatives to help Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) - which account for over 97 per cent of enterprises and 50 per cent of the workforce across APEC economies.

More can be done to facilitate e-commerce goods and services and address gaps in areas from customs and tariffs to data flows and cybersecurity. APEC must also work to help each other assess and improve their services sectors, the biggest contributor to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in many APEC economies.

"APEC's leadership is more important than ever to stem the tide of protectionism and anti-globalisation. APEC economies need to work together, focus on collaborative wins and continue the dialogue on how we can balance open trade with domestic considerations and make globalisation work better for all,'' Mr Lim concluded.

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