The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently being negotiated amongst several countries will complement each other, said Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In a meeting conducted on September 17 with journalists from ASEAN nations, Mr Lee believed if the countries can negotiate a TPP agreement that is beneficial to all, it will give the countries involved better access to new markets in which they currently face obstacles.
But he also said that at the same time, ASEAN member countries would have to be prepared to open up their own markets to other TPP members in corresponding measure.
Mr Lee added that various teams from the respective countries are focused on negotiating these details now.
Turning to the AEC, which is targeted to be completed by end-2015, Mr Lee did not believe that ASEAN will achieve 100 per cent of the targets it had initially set for itself.
But he said that 80 to 85 per cent of the work is done and is confident that the bulk of the targets will be met.
He also hoped that ASEAN nations will take the remaining work to be done seriously and continue to implement this beyond 2015.
Mr Lee explained: “This ASEAN integration is a work in progress, because when you talk about economic community, the economies grow, the needs evolve and have new requirements. At the same time, we also have new imaginative ways of protecting markets. It happens, and we have to work on this continually and keep ASEAN as a vibrant and an up-to-date organisation.”
The prime minister also does not feel that ASEAN members run any great risks in implementing the AEC programme, although he also acknowledged that it may be politically difficult to carry out some of the planned measures.
He elaborated: “When we talk about open skies and freer air services, they benefit all of the countries but in many of the countries, you have national airlines which seek special government help or you have other carriers which do not want to share their market with other competitors that pose a problem.
“In terms of goods, every country will have certain sensitive industries and certain sensitive products and it is a political judgment – how far you want to go for economic integration and efficiency and how far you want to protect these sensitive products – because politically, it is important to you and you do not want that sector to be overly impacted.
“We do not have so much of those difficulties in Singapore because we are such an open economy already and we have hardly any tariffs or market protection to speak of, but in other ASEAN economies, the situation is different.”
On the position Singapore takes on ASEAN matters, Mr Lee told his audience: “I think we try not to speak loudly. Small countries should not speak loudly. It is not a good idea. We work together with the other countries and I think we work on all of the areas.
“Economic cooperation, of course, is a very major item on the agenda but also political cooperation (and) also our social programmes. It has to be a balanced package because different countries in ASEAN have different interests and we want to progress on all of them, not in lock steps but in parallel so that we get benefits distributed all round and countries continue to find ASEAN relevant to them.”
Turning to the haze issue, Mr Lee said it is very difficult to solve such a problem once and for all.
He reminded the journalists that the major impact of the haze was not just on Southeast Asia and Singapore but also on the population of Indonesia because the farmers, the urban dwellers in Pekanbaru, Dumai and Palembang were the ones who suffered the most.
He emphasised the need to find an effective way for the farmers to farm their land so they do not just burn old crops or the jungle in order to clear the land to prepare it for the next season.
Mr Lee believed this can be done with proper enforcement, the right incentives and the right education.
He said: “It is possible and in fact preferable to develop and farm the land without the very damaging method.”
Source : Channel News Asia | September 20, 2013