Singapore PM: US credibility on the line over TPP trade deal

Matthew Pennington (Associated Press) - August 2, 2016 - 9:33am

WASHINGTON — American credibility is on the line over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Singapore's prime minister said Monday, urging its ratification despite growing political opposition in the U.S. to the 12-nation free trade pact.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged that the TPP was politically difficult in a tough election year because of American people's worries over jobs and competition from overseas.

But he said the pact would give the U.S. better access to the markets that account for 40 percent of global economic output and add heft to Washington's effort to deepen its engagement in the Asia-Pacific.

"For America's friends and partners, ratifying the TPP is a litmus test of your credibility and seriousness of purpose," Lee told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ahead of a meeting Tuesday with President Barack Obama at the White House.

The TPP was negotiated by the Obama administration and was signed by the 12 participating governments, including Singapore, in February but it has yet to be ratified by Congress. The Republican presidential contender Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton have both come out against the pact.

The proposed deal would eliminate trade barriers and tariffs, streamline standards and encourage investment between the participating countries which also include Mexico, Japan, Vietnam and Australia. Critics say the pact undercuts American workers by introducing lower-wage competition and gives huge corporations too much leeway.

Lee said that America is better off with its "doors open" to trade. He said: "There are no winners, only losers with protectionism."

He also dampened expectation of reopening the negotiations, saying every TPP member had to make sacrifices to accept the agreement.

"There's no prospect of doing better, and every chance of having it fall apart. Asian countries want America to be engaged. We need to know that this engagement will be sustained and we need to know that agreements will be upheld," he said.

Lee's visit marks the 50th anniversary of relations of U.S. diplomatic relations with the Southeast Asian city state, which relies heavily on international trade for its prosperity.

Lee will be honored with a state dinner Tuesday, the first held for a Singaporean leader since October 1985, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, for Lee's late father, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

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