We hope India will reassess stand on trade pacts, says Singapore Foreign Minister

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he hoped India would ‘reassess’ its stand on regional trading agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact that India withdrew from in 2019.

Also read: Why did India stay out of the RCEP deal?

India had “a crucial role” to play in helping the region build an inclusive architecture at a time of increasing global instability, he said, on Wednesday at the Raisina Dialogue, held virtually this year and hosted by the Observer Research Foundation in partnership with India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

On the trade deal, Mr. Balakrishnan said he was “making a plea” for India to revisit its stand.

“I hope India will reassess regional trade pacts like RCEP and even the CPTPP [Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership] ,” he said. “These trade pacts will give Indian companies a platform to showcase their strengths across even larger markets.”

The RCEP came into force in November 2020 without India and is the world’s largest trading agreement, covering the 10 ASEAN nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The CPTPP, successor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which the U.S. withdrew from, includes Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam from ASEAN, along with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru.

India withdrew from the RCEP largely because of concerns it would open it up to Chinese goods amid an already wide trade imbalance with China, and the failure of the agreement to adequately open up to services.

Mr. Balakrishnan said Singapore hoped India could play a role to help build a regional architecture that was ‘open’ and ‘inclusive’.

Rising U.S.-China tensions were “deeply worrying” for the region with the pandemic resulting in “heightened tension” which had “implications for us all”, with a contest over emerging technologies, divergence on human rights and ensions related to defence and cyber security issues.

“The U.S.-China relationship is a lynchpin for regional and global stability,” he said. “In Southeast Asia, it is all the more crucial to maintain ASEAN centrality and unity amid geopolitical competition.”

On Myanmar, what ASEAN wanted was to stop the violence and then have direct dialogue between the military leadership and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). Saying the sanctions route needed to be carefully considered as COVID-19 had already inflicted a grievous blow on Myanmar’s economy, he said “the worst thing we could do” is to “add the burden on to ordinary citizens”. “Not only ASEAN but immediate neighbours, like India and China, have strategic interests at stake and they can play a constructive role behind the scenes,” he said.

The Singapore Foreign Minister praised India’s strong support to global vaccine cooperation, at a time when the pandemic had “turbocharged protectionism and nationalism all over the world, significantly disrupted trade flows and supply chains, and sharpened the tendency for policymakers to turn inwards”.

Efforts were on by Singapore, he said, for mutual recognition of health certificates with other countries, with interoperability across borders to gradually facilitate a resumption of travel.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 1:06:55 AM |

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