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Singapore Budget 2018: Anti-globalisation not the answer to problems - Vivian
THOUGH free trade has been unfairly blamed for economic problems around the world, Singapore believes the answer is not to retreat from global competition, said Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan.
"We believe we have to double down on re-structuring our economies, upgrading the skills of our people, supporting innovation and pursuing business opportunities globally," he said in his ministry's Committee of Supply debate yesterday.
This commitment is also why the Asean Economic Community was launched in 2015, he added.
Responding to MPs' questions on Singapore's role as Asean chair this year, he noted that the themes of this chairmanship - "resilience" and "innovation" - express Singapore's hopes for Asean to meet future challenges such as digital disruption.
Globally, though protectionist nationalism is on the rise, the outlook is not completely bleak, said Dr Balakrishnan. Following the US' withdrawal, the 11 remaining parties in the Trans-Pacific Partnership are set to sign the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in Chile on Mar 8.
"We will continue to leave the door open for the US," he added.
Singapore also hopes to make substantive progress this year on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), with the 10 Asean members and six dialogue partners.
Far from being rival trade blocs, the CPTPP and RCEP are "complementary building blocks" towards a free trade area of the entire Asia-Pacific.
Dr Balakrishnan reaffirmed Singapore's relationship with major powers such as China and the United States, as well as close neighbours.
Negotiations to upgrade the China-Singapore FTA are underway, and there is huge potential for deeper cooperation on China's Belt and Road initiative, he said.
And in Singapore's third year as Asean-China coordinator, it will continue to be an "honest broker" as negotiations on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea begin.
But he added: "I cannot promise it will be delivered soon, because of the complexities involved." Singapore's coordinatorship ends this August.
Illustrating Singapore's strong ties with the US, Dr Balakrishnan noted that US exports to Singapore and Singapore investments in the US support over 250,000 American jobs.
"This is a statistic we shared with President Trump to make the point that he has real skin in the game in South-east Asia and especially in Singapore," he added.
President Donald Trump has accepted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's invitation to visit Singapore later this year. Said Dr Balakrishnan: "We look forward to receiving him."
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For more Budget 2018 stories visit bt.sg/budget18