To celebrate the 50th anniversary of U.S. diplomatic relations with Singapore, the country’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is joining President Barack Obama at a state dinner in the White House on Tuesday evening- the first held for a Singaporean leader since 1985.
The two leaders spoke to the press outside the White House Tuesday morning, where president Obama said that the two nations are solid partners, facing terrorism and backing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) together.
«We hope, and I know the president shares this hope, that Congress will ratify the TPP soon,» Lee said.
The two are scheduled to discuss the 12 nation trade pact that is currently stalled in Congress.
During remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Lee said the agreement would give the U.S. better access to markets that make up for 40 percent of the global economy.
«And in pushing the TPP and bringing it about, or concluding the negotiations, the Obama administration clearly understands the TPP’s role in securing America’s future, not just its prosperity, but also its place in the world,» he said.
«We know this has been politically difficult, it’s a very tough election year, American people are wary of U.S. global engagement. And economic uncertainty has led to concern about jobs, worries about competition from overseas. These are all understandable, even valid concerns, but we hope that all parties will focus on the longer term bigger picture, because there are no winners, only losers with protectionism,” Lee added.
The countries that are part of the TPP are the United States, Vietnam, Singapore, Peru, New Zealand, Mexico, Malaysia, Japan, Chile, Canada, Brunei, and Australia.
The White House has said the agreement would help further break down global trade barriers, open untapped markets, and grow the economy, while providing an important counterbalance to the growing economic strength of China.
Singapore is heavily dependent on international trade. In 2004, the city state became the first to sign a bilateral free trade deal with the United States.
On Monday, Obama said he is optimistic that Congress will eventually approve the TPP trade deal even though both 2016 presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, oppose it.
Obama, who leaves office next January, offered his prediction Monday in an interview with The Straits Times ahead of Lee’s state visit to Washington.
«The politics around trade can be very difficult — especially in an election year,» Obama said. «There are legitimate concerns and anxieties that the forces of globalization are leaving too many people behind — and we have to take those concerns seriously and address them.»
Lee said Tuesday morning that Singapore would continue to work with whichever party was elected to the White House this fall, citing «steadfast relations through 9 U.S. presidents: 5 Republican and 4 Democrat.»
But many Democrats and Republicans are concerned the trade deal would send more American jobs overseas and hurt the environment including presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Clinton, as Obama’s first-term secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, was a staunch TPP advocate, saying it «sets the gold standard in trade agreements.»
But last year, she said the details in the agreement did not meet her standards and turned against it.
Trump has built his support among blue-collar workers by opposing trade deals, the pending Pacific deal, as well as the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada