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American Shipper

Singapore ambassador makes case for TPP

At a briefing in Washington, D.C., Singapore’s ambassador to the Unites States Ashok Kumar Mirpuri said trade is what plugs in smaller economies and opens selling opportunities for United States firms.

   Singapore’s ambassador the United States Ashok Kumar Mirpuri said Friday he doesn’t feel deceived by apparent conflicting U.S. positions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping trade deal involving 12 nations on four continents.
   Last year, Congress gave the White House fast-track authority to negotiate the TPP and other trade deals through the passage of a new trade promotion authority bill. But rhetoric around passage of the TPP has changed in 2016, with both presumptive presidential candidates saying they are not in favor of it.
   Mirpuri, speaking to a collection of press during a luncheon at the National Foreign Trade Council offices in Washington, D.C., said he is optimistic the deal will be completed and there is no sense of disappointment or deception.
   “Free trade agreements always go through with just the right amount of support,” he said. “No agreement goes through with every member of Congress voting for it. The problem with free trade agreements is we promise benefits that are going to be in the future.”
   That inherently means there can be pain in the short term, pain that can dissuade lawmakers from voting for agreements that jeopardize their ability to get re-elected.
   The clock is ticking, Mirpuri warned, without giving a firm timeline for when the deal might not be relevant any more.
   “There will come a point where some of the (elements of the deal) will no longer be relevant,” he said. “TPP has been hard because it’s an ambitious framework, a 21st century agreement (covering data, not just goods and services).”
   As for whether he or his counterparts in other TPP member embassies can sell the agreement to U.S. lawmakers, Mirpuri said it depends.
   “The members who voted for TPA, they’re fine,” he said. “And if you’ve never voted for an FTA, I don’t think an ambassador is going to convince you.”
   It’s that group in the middle where the fate of TPP in the United States lies, he intimated.
   Mirpuri, in his current position since 2012, said other TPP members came into negotiations with their “eyes wide open” about the difficulty of passage in the United States.
   “The surprise is that so many of us built our economies on the economic model of the U.S. free market,” he said. “The surprise is that now people (in the United States) have started to reflect that this model isn’t effective. This is what you put out in the world – not just democracy but free trade.”
   Mirpuri extensively discussed Singapore’s reasons for wholeheartedly backing the deal. As a nation of roughly 5 million people with few natural resources, his country relies on free trade to “plug in to the world economy.” So Singapore has inked 21 bilateral free trade agreements, including one with the United States.
   Singapore imported $64 billion worth of goods and services from the United States in 2015, of which three-quarters were goods.
   Mirpuri said the TPP should be seen as a way for U.S. companies to sell their goods and services more effectively to economies in Asia. He noted that economic and population growth will come from that region. Failing to connect with those growing economies – such as Vietnam and Thailand – would have bigger consequences for the United States than for the ASEAN bloc, since the ASEAN nations have already cemented FTAs with each other, China, and Europe.
   “TPP is not the only game in town,” he said. “I see TPP as a way for the U.S. to anchor itself in Asia.”
   The TPP, as it currently stands, is largely dependent on ratification by the United States and Japan, the two largest economies in the deal, since 85 percent of the economies among the 12 members need to pass it for it come into existence. If it does, Mirpuri noted that other major Asian nations, such as Indonesia, South Korea, and the Philippines, are eager to join as well.
   Meanwhile, while many have seen the development of the TPP as a way for the United States to counter China’s influence in Asia trade, Mirpuri said Singapore welcomed China’s participation in the deal, adding that he does not see membership in TPP as a choice between China and the United States.
   “TPP is not meant to be exclusive,” he said. “Our economic strategy is plugging into the world, not about making a choice.”

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