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            february 18, 2019

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Trade war will hurt S'pore, but ASEAN will uphold WTO rules


Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has conveyed the country's concerns to both the US and China about the rising trade tensions between the two powers, reports Channel News Asia.
Speaking to the press conference at the end of Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting, Dr Balakrishnan explained that any trade war or unilateral sanctions has "disproportionate impact" on Singapore.
Singapore has good relations with both the US and China, he said, and has "courteously and directly" expressed its position to both of them, he said, in response to questions from reporters.
"Obviously, we don't control the agenda of their decisions, but for what it is worth, we conveyed our concerns."
Dr Balakrishnan's comments come amid escalating trade tensions between the US and China. In early July, the US imposed 25 per cent tariffs on US$34 billion of Chinese goods, prompting retaliatory tariffs on an equivalent volume of US exports to China. In response, China said it was prepared to impose new tariffs on US$60 billion worth of American goods.
Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore believes in a multilateral, rules-based system, and noted that "in an ideal world", everyone resolves their differences on trade through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), or at least in a WTO-compliant fashion.
"It's not exactly identical to what the US or China may want, but Singapore gets to state what we believe in, because we say the same thing to both sides, they know that we are being transparent and honest, and we are not playing games," he said.
He added that this position is "entirely consistent" with that of the ASEAN regional bloc.
Nevertheless, he said, people acknowledged that there has been some progress, and the June 12 Singapore Summit did "change the tone of the conversation".
Dr Balakrishnan also described ASEAN and China's arrival at a single draft negotiating text on the South China Sea code of conduct as a "significant milestone".
He added that the single draft made a "big difference" to the tone of the discussion on the topic this time, as compared to previous ASEAN meetings.
Asked if ASEAN if is at risk of becoming an arena for big power rivalry to play out, Dr Balakrishnan said: "We have no intention of allowing that to happen. We will be united, we will be relevant, we will maintain centrality and we will continue to convene these regional and extra-regional platforms."
Dr Balakrishnan also revealed to reporters that an agreement has been reached to conclude negotiations on the ASEAN-European Union comprehensive Air Transport Agreement by the end of the year. Negotiations for an ASEAN-European Union Free Trade Agreement will also be negotiated.

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