Biden administration likely to have multilateral approach

US President-elect Joe Biden’s administration is likely to have a more constructive and multilateral approach in trade with other countries, especially within the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) region, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He said APEC has made slow progress in the past few years with the approach taken by the Donald Trump administration seen as derailing trade within the region. 

He noted that one of the reasons was because the US approach has been to deal with issues bilaterally, rather than in a multilateral basis with multiple partners together in a group, and the US also has not been supportive of trade as a win-win proposition.

“The attitude of the Trump administration is that this is a win-lose proposition. If I have a trade surplus with you, that is good for me. If I have a trade deficit with you, that is bad for me. Trade is not like that.

“But that has been this administration’s view, and this administration is still in charge until Jan 20. I do not think that they are likely to change their position at this late stage,” he said.

Lee said this during a conversation session titled “The Future of Global Growth” with Singapore Business Federation CEO Ho Meng Kit at the APEC CEO Dialogues held virtually today. 

Biden, a former two-term Vice President in the Barack Obama administration and 36-year Senate veteran, won the US election this month. He is expected to be sworn as the 46th President of the United States on Jan 20, 2021. 

“We will have to see how the Biden administration plays. I think there will be more multilateralists. I think they will be more supportive of the World Trade Organisation and APEC. 

“I am not sure that they will be more keen on throwing the doors wide open or joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) because that depends on domestic politics too,” said Lee. 

On US-China relations, he said the relationship between the US and China was crucial under the new administration but there could be many difficult issues to deal with.

“On both sides of the US and China, the relationship has hardened a lot in recent years. Many people in the US see China as a strategic threat to them and this is bipartisan.   

“Quite a number of observers in China think that the US is out to thwart their development and rise, and they are determined not to let the US stop their development,” he noted.

Lee hoped that it would be a more coherent, systematic approach, that takes into account a broader range of US interests — not just a trade balance, but also their overall relationship with China and the overall interest which the US has in the Asia-Pacific and in the world. – Nov 19, 2020

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