SINGAPORE is in a unique position to help foster greater trade liberalisation between the various economies in the Asia-Pacific region, a top United States trade official said yesterday.
'Because of the diversity of economies within the (region), some of those developing economies may sometimes feel like it's a little bit of an unfair conversation between the US and them,' said US Trade Representative Ron Kirk.
Calling Singapore a 'leading voice' for trade liberalisation, he said: 'We think Singapore has a unique ability to play the role of an honest broker within this process.'
On mad cow disease concerns
UNITED States Trade Representative Ron Kirk took questions on concerns about the mad cow disease in California after delivering his address on the US Asia-Pacific trade policy at SMU:
· On the response from importers:
'It certainly has not got into the food chain. It has not affected any other animals. The response of our trading partners, thankfully, has been very measured, and this is because our US Department of Agriculture acted quickly to put out all the information that we had.
We are confident at this point that there is no evidence that this was either food-borne, from consumption, or that this particular animal is in the food chain.
So right now there is no risk to US consumers or to any consumers around the world.'
· On reports that Indonesia has banned US beef imports:
'The US absolutely respects and honours the right of every country to protect the health, safety, welfare of its citizens. There is no reason... for any consumer to be concerned about the consumption of US beef.
We would expect that Indonesia would quickly reopen its market for its consumers for US beef products.'
Mr Kirk, principal trade adviser and negotiator for US President Barack Obama, was speaking at a press conference after delivering an address on US Asia-Pacific trade policy at the Singapore Management University.
He added that the US was making 'good progress' in its negotiations on a regional trade pact called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), but declined to identify a specific deadline for the conclusion of the talks.
The pact's objective is to foster a free trade area in the Asia-Pacific, a region that accounts for over half of global output and over 40 per cent of world trade.
But Mr Kirk also noted that businesses and workers are now 'confronting new challenges that... current agreements do not address'.
Such new challenges, which the TPP will seek to tackle, include developing 'smarter and more coordinated regulation' in TPP countries to 'promote efficiency', Mr Kirk said in his speech.
'We are working to put in place... state-of-the-art customs practices and open services sectors, which provide the infrastructure necessary to encourage efficient trade and investment.'
He said the TPP countries were 'working to ensure the free flow of information and of data through the TPP region without unwarranted restrictions'.
The US was working with Asia-Pacific countries to eliminate tariffs on more information, communication and technology goods, he said.
He added that they were also discussing proposals related to 'common values' such as protecting the environment and opening up markets.
The four founding partners of the TPP are Singapore, Brunei, Chile and New Zealand.
Apart from the US, the four other countries currently involved in TPP negotiations are Australia, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam.
Mr Kirk said three other countries - Japan, Canada and Mexico - were now talking to the TPP countries about joining the regional pact as well.
'We are developing an agreement that is open to new entrants.'
He also said institutions such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) grouping and Asean were good platforms to pursue the goal of freer trade in the Asia-Pacific.
'We see the potential to engage with the Asean countries... Asean itself has been targeting trade facilitation, the digital economy and agribusiness, all of which are possible focus areas for our joint work,' he added.
Singapore has had a free trade agreement with the US since 2004.