Rules, communication vital for trade relationships: PM Lee at APEC


International trade is essential. And countries need to agree upon its rules, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Bangkok on Nov 19.

“Otherwise, it’s the law of the jungle,” stated PM Lee.

“We need new rules, we need to update the existing rules. But until we agree on the updates and the new rules, we have to abide by the existing rules,” the PM also said.

In particular, PM Lee saw new rules as advantageous for growing APEC’s digital economy beyond local borders.

“The pandemic has accelerated digitalisation. But international rules have lagged behind,” he noted.

PM Lee’s remarks are timely. They come at a point where APEC ‘s 21 member countries are committed to, and strengthening, their rules-based multilateral trading system — but are also recognising that greater efforts are needed for tackling rising inflation, food security, climate change and natural disasters.

The 2022 APEC Joint Ministerial Statement

Indeed, the 2022 APEC Joint Ministerial Statement commits to being open to all opportunities, connecting in all dimensions for trade and balancing these trade aspirations with sustainability measures.

So at this stage, a mutually-agreed upon rules framework for trade is essential.

“Because in this situation if I do what I want, and people talk about ‘unfair, non-market distortions and subsidies’, what is ‘a fair-market, non-distortion subsidy?’’ PM Lee asked to illustrate.

“And if I don’t have some basis for that: what I do is fair, what you do is unfair.”

Then, tensions come from these lapses in understanding.

“And if we pursue that, it’s not just between opponents where you’re going to have a problem,” said PM Lee.

“Even between friendly countries, we’ll have to have quite hard discussions.”

Of course, it’s impossible that everyone will agree on everything even at the best of times.

However, not talking means no agreements at all.

“Internationally, we have to work together with other countries. Despite the tensions. Despite disagreements,” said PM Lee.

“And make common cause: even when we can’t agree on everything, can we agree on some things and work together?”

Singapore builds trust

So Singapore is doing its part.

“We are working with other APEC economies on initiatives such as the APEC Supply Chain Connectivity Framework Action Plan, and the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement, posted PM Lee during the Summit.

These initiatives build trust between countries and benefit all parties. What’s not to like when everyone’s goods flow through the supply chain smoothly? And when data innovation deploys across borders?

(APEC 2022 was PM Lee’s third Summit in two weeks, by the by. Talk about always being present for difficult tasks.)

“Today free trade is under stress and globalisation is on the wane. Rivalry and distrust between major economies have grown,” posted PM Lee in a Sunday Nov 20 social media update following APEC.

“But globalisation and economic cooperation have served us well,” he added.

“And while other concerns mean they now need moderating, these interlinked modes of cooperation remain important for economies to prosper.”

“APEC’s core objective must still be trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation. The green and digital economies are bright spots with great potential for win-win cooperation,” PM Lee concluded.

All photos from PM Lee Facebook