WASHINGTON — Singapore’s prime minister has raised doubts over the Trump administration’s trade policy, saying a hasty push to get countries to open their markets may “come to grief.”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the U.S. withdrawal from a trans-Pacific trade agreement had hurt U.S. credibility in negotiations and many countries will be reluctant to enter one-on-one trade deals with Washington.
Lee was speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations. He met Monday with President Donald Trump who hailed Singapore’s commitment to “fair and reciprocal” trade. It was Trump’s final meeting with an Asian leader before he begins a five-nation, 12-day trip to the region, starting Nov. 3.
The rich Southeast Asian city state, which has strong ties with the United States, is one of the few Asian countries with which the U.S. enjoys a trade surplus.
Trump made withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership one of his first actions as president. Singapore was one of the 12 signatories.
Lee said the TPP was both economically and strategically important but it was now time to move on. He said the Trump administration says it rethinking its approach to Asia but not disengaging from the region. He expressed hope Trump would provide that reassurance on his trip that will take him to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The Singapore leader said the U.S. has been the world’s most open market and now thinks “others should be as open as us.”
“I think it’s reasonable to push for that but if they want that to happen overnight it may well come to grief,” Lee said.
He was skeptical about other nations’ willingness to seek one-on-one trade agreements with the U.S. — the preferred strategy of Trump, who also wants to re-negotiate the three-way NAFTA trade deal with Canada and Mexico.
“I think the belief is that bilaterally you are bigger than any other partner who is likely to come along and you get a better deal, as a result of which I think that not many partners will be keen to deal with you bilaterally,” Lee said.
He urged the administration to preserve existing trade and investment ties with the Asia-Pacific.