Asia must “create relevance by redoubling our efforts to integrate our economies,” Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry, His Excellency Chan Chun Sing, told Asia House’s major conference.
Addressing the Asia Trade in the New Global Order forum in Singapore, Minister Chan outlined the challenges facing world trade, and called for more integration and collaboration to tackle them.
“I can safely and confidently say… everyone in Asia wants to see a more integrated global community. No one wants to see the world being balkanised into different trading blocs,” the Minister said.
“Asia cannot be looking for the spoils of war. Instead, it has to create relevance by redoubling efforts to integrate our economies and leverage each other’s relative comparative advantages to bring out the best in each other.”
He went on to note the importance of the ASEAN community, the ongoing RCEP negotiations, and the CPTPP, pointing to them as examples of Asia’s urge to stay away from fragmenting global and regional production and value chains. He added that the growing digital economy is a “tremendous opportunity” for economies in Asia and the rest of the world to come together through greater integration.
“If we don’t seize that opportunity, then we risk balkanisation into isolated digital islands, which contradicts the very essence of data and digital flows to bring about a more integrated world.”
Watch Minister Chan’s speech and Q&A with Michael Lawrence, Chief Executive of Asia House, below
The Minister was giving a keynote speech to open the trade dialogue, which brought together leading political and business figures to discuss the shifts taking place in the world economy. Current US-China trade tensions were a recurring theme during the conference, and Minister Chan addressed the issue directly. Acknowledging that US-Chinese relations are at a crossroads, Minister Chan noted that both countries need to first address their own domestic challenges.
“To resolve US-Chinese relations and put it on a positive footing, both of them need to seriously consider how they manage their domestic challenges. Failure to address these [would] lead to a local backlash, [which] will bring about global consequences. Both – as the largest players on the geopolitical scene – have a choice to make.”
Minister Chan also shared his views on Brexit, and Europe’s broader role in global trade going forward. He questioned the respective positions of both the EU and the UK regarding the global stage: “Is it one of integration or is it one of isolation?”
He expressed hope that the EU-Singapore FTA would make its way through the European Parliament soon, pointing out that such agreements are not just about lowering trade barriers, but act as a statement on behalf of the EU about how they want to integrate and connect with the rest of the world. He added: “Likewise, Brexit or not, the UK has to answer those same questions. How will the UK relate to the rest of the world? It would be a shame for either the UK or the European community to walk away from this leadership position.”
Following his keynote speech, Minister Chan was in conversation with Asia House Chief Executive Michael Lawrence. The Q&A session saw them discuss in further detail the US-China trade war, the need for global economic integration, and the Belt and Road Initiative.
Asked by HM Trade Commissioner for Asia Pacific, Natalie Black, on the proposed entry of the UK to the CPTPP, Minister Chan said member countries would “welcome” discussions, but added that the focus for CPTPP members at this point will be on “getting the machine going” when the agreement comes into force at the end of December.
“There are many other countries that request to join the CPTPP,” he said. “For Singapore we see it as a positive development as it fits in with our wider posture that we like to see of countries working together for greater integration rather than fragmentation.”
“When the system is ready and the UK is ready, I am quite sure that countries will welcome discussions with the UK,” he added.
Watch Minister Chan’s keynote speech and Q&A in full