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TPP will show US seriousness as an Asia-Pacific power: PM

Pact 'is important to the United States, economically as well as strategically'

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong made the most of two high-profile events in the American capital on Tuesday to drive home the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to the United States.

At a dialogue organised by the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-profit think tank, he described the TPP - a mega free-trade pact in the final stages of negotiation - as a signal of the level of "commitment and seriousness" by the US as an Asia-Pacific power.

The TPP involves 12 Pacific Rim countries, including the US, Singapore, Japan and Australia, and the long-standing talks are likely to wrap up later this year.

Once the last few issues are settled, Mr Lee said he hoped that Congress would give its support to ratify the deal because the TPP "is important to the United States, economically as well as strategically".

During the hour-long talk, moderated by former US ambassador to Singapore J Stapleton Roy, Mr Lee spoke of how President Barack Obama has talked about America's rebalancing towards Asia and the importance of Asia to the US.

"We strongly support that, and we understand that for that to be meaningful and to have substance, it cannot just be talk," he told some 145 guests that included diplomats, academics, journalists and top government officials.

"It cannot even just be security, which is important, but it has to be a broad engagement of the region. You have to have policies, measures, specific projects on which you work with the partners in the region where it is win-win, and people say 'Yes, America is a good and worthy friend, and I am on your side'. The TPP is one serious measure which shows the seriousness of your purpose," said Mr Lee.

Asia is constantly changing, with China growing and becoming more influential with time, the prime minister noted, adding that it was a region that America played an important role in and had to engage actively.

And even as the US was currently preoccupied with foreign policy issues such as the troubles in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Ukraine, Mr Lee reminded the world's largest economy that it had "many friends, many interests and many investments" in Asia.

His other opportunity to press the point came during a reception to mark the 10th anniversary of the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA), at which he said trade policy needed to be a "key instrument" in order for the US to engage in the region and to expand its influence and relevance to Asian countries.

"There has to be substance, and, if I may say, there has to be beef in the hamburger. The TPP is the most important deal on the table, or anywhere on the horizon, in this respect," he told guests gathered at the US Chamber of Commerce.

He also spoke of the importance of the TPP to have strong bipartisan and public support as he urged the American business community to lend their voices to support the deal.

The TPP, he added, would open up 700,000 new jobs in the US by 2025 - 10 times the projected number to be created under the US-South Korea FTA.

If realised, the TPP would be the world's largest free-trade pact, covering about 40 per cent of global GDP and a third of world trade.