7 October 2015
Singapore firms welcome TPP with eye on opportunities
Chia Yan Min
SINGAPORE: Business associations and companies here have welcomed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), saying it will create new opportunities and boost trade in the region.
But they also warned that ratification of the treaty by member states will be the more difficult step and is by no means a done deal.
The TPP is a far-reaching agreement involving 12 countries which make up 40 per cent of the world economy.
The deal was finally struck in the US city of Atlanta on Monday after five years of intense negotiations and must now be signed formally by the leaders of the 12 nations - Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam - and ratified by their parliaments.
The TPP agreement could open up new opportunities, strengthen trade and investment rules, and improve business conditions in the region, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) said.
SBF chief executive Ho Meng Kit told The Straits Times that it is still too early to identify specific areas of concern for the business community as the details are not yet available. The top priority now is to get the deal ratified in key economies such as the United States, he said.
Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Victor Mills agreed, noting that the deal accomplishes the key strategic imperative of anchoring the US to the Asia-Pacific region.
"This strategic imperative has always been Singapore policy and even more so in recent years to balance the rise of China and Chinese maritime ambitions," he said.
Business chambers also lauded the TPP's special provisions that aim to help smaller enterprises integrate into the global supply chain and expand overseas.
"What's most important is for SMEs to put in place an actionable plan to expand into the region. If our SMEs are slow to move, they will lose out," said Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee.
Besides opening up trade between member countries, however, the TPP also contains rules on a range of controversial issues, some of which could affect Singapore.
For instance, the pact includes a mechanism that will allow foreign investors to bring TPP governments to arbitration. Critics fear that this will undermine the ability of governments to regulate multinational firms.
The agreement also addresses issues such as the development of the digital economy, and the role of state-owned enterprises in the global economy.
Singapore already has free trade agreements with all of the TPP countries except Canada and Mexico.
But the TPP will do more than broaden Singapore's access to freer trade in new markets, said DBS economist Irvin Seah. The agreement will also deepen the Republic's existing trade relationships by including components which were left out of previous agreements.
For instance, the pact will allow Singapore companies to participate in government procurement projects in TPP member countries.
HSBC economist Frederic Neumann noted that the details of the agreement have so far been sketchy, with consumers unclear of the benefits or costs of the deal.
But with more information on the deal likely to be released, there could be fierce opposition, especially in South-east Asian countries where "suspicion over foreign involvement in local economies remains strong", he noted.
For at least one company, the benefits of the trade deal are clear.
Mr Gary Lee, deputy general manager for export sales and marketing at food and beverage group Tee Yih Jia, said the company hopes to ramp up exports to South American markets such as Chile and Peru, which are part of the TPP.