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S'pore, M'sia leaders urge help for citizens fearing TPP

Publication Date : 23-05-2014


Asia-Pacific governments pushing for an ambitious trade deal should help those among their citizens who fear the consequences of freer trade, the leaders of Singapore and Malaysia said yesterday in Japan.

The three countries are members of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a comprehensive regional free-trade pact facing obstacles in its final stages.

One of the sticking points has been Japan's reluctance to reduce or remove tariffs on key agricultural imports, such as rice and beef.

But protecting these industries "is not sustainable", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, given the advanced age of Japanese farmers, who on average are in their mid-60s.

"Even without the TPP, you will be changing, and you have to find some way to manage this change," he said in a dialogue at the Nikkei conference in Tokyo.

He said Japan must "take care of the rural population and the agricultural workers, who (have been) dependent on your protection for so long".

Similarly, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, speaking at the same conference, called for greater citizen engagement to avoid any "public disaffection" that could scuttle a possible TPP deal.

He said the complexity of trade negotiations could be "mistaken for conspiracy" as the long-term benefits - such as faster growth and higher-paying jobs - can be less tangible to ordinary people.

"In an age of increasing integration, we must ensure we take the people with us - explaining the process and describing the benefits more clearly," he added.

Asked if the TPP could be concluded by summer, Najib quipped: "For Malaysia, we have summer throughout the year, so any time is a good time."

Asia-Pacific ministers who met in Singapore this week said on Tuesday that good progress had been made towards a TPP deal.

Yesterday, Lee also met Japan's minister of state for economic and fiscal policy Akira Amari. They reaffirmed their commitment to conclude a high-standard TPP deal, said a statement from Lee's office.

At the dialogue, Lee said the TPP would be "the nucleus and the spark" for an Asia-Pacific free-trade area, which should also include China and South Korea. Others in the TPP are the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam.

China and Indonesia are not in the pact.

Speaking to media at the World Economic Forum in Manila, Indonesian Finance Minister Muhamad Chatib Basri said excluding China removes a "very big trading partner in Southeast Asia".

He also told The Straits Times that to join the TPP, Indonesia needs to ensure it can reap the benefits. "The standards (for joining) are very high so we need to prepare for that. And you need your major trading partner to be involved, and in this case China is not involved."

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