Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Jun 28) outlined a series of ways to strengthen multilateral trading systems, suggesting that there are risks in not doing so.
Mr Lee was speaking at a plenary session on “Global Economy, and Trade and Investment” at the G20 summit being held in Osaka.
"If globalisation does not hold, the world economy will be divided into rival blocs, tensions and conflicts will sap countries' attention and resources, and they will all be poorer off and less secure," Mr Lee cautioned.
His remarks come amid escalating trade tensions between the United States and China, which are both members of G20. Their leaders are expected to have a highly anticipated meeting during the summit amid concerns that the dispute is having a ripple effect on the global economy.
Mr Lee acknowledged that the international trading system today is" far from perfect", but said the alternative would be "much worse".
Suggesting ways to improve it, Mr Lee said leaders have to get their politics "right" in order to sustain policies that support global trade and investment, and enable people to benefit from them.
"Leaders need to explain the challenges and trade-offs clearly and honestly to voters, persuade them, and work together with them to promote their own long-term interests," he said.
Despite some people in various countries pushing back against globalisation because it has worked against them, the solution is not to close up, Mr Lee said.
"Instead, we must raise the skills of our people to prepare them for new jobs, and help our businesses to adopt new technologies and raise productivity," he said.
STRENGTHENING THE WTO, DEVELOPING NEW RULES FOR A DIGITAL ECONOMY
Another way to strengthen the multilateral trading system is to make its foundation and especially the World Trade Organisation (WTO), stronger, Mr Lee said.
The WTO needs to be" brought up to date", he said.
"I hope that all WTO members will heed the call to work constructively and urgently to undertake reform," he said.
This includes resolving the impasse over the appellate body quickly, he added, referring to a manpower crisis in the group that hears appeals in trade disputes between countries.
Mr Lee, in speaking about the digital economy, commended Japan’s leadership through the Osaka Track, a move to create a set of international rules enabling the free movement of data across borders announced during the summit.
On its part, Singapore is convening alongside Japan and Australia a WTO initiative to promote e-commerce, and developing a trilateral Digital Economy Partnership Agreement with Chile and New Zealand, he said.