The U.S.-China trade war has already cast a pall over the global economy, adding an additional layer of uncertainty for consumers and investors, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Wednesday during a dialogue at the 19th Forbes Global CEO Conference in Singapore.
“It means that much less prosperity for the two countries, and that much less buoyancy for the rest of the world,” said Lee in a conversation with Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Forbes Media.
Prime Minister Lee was addressing a 2-day gathering of roughly 400 global CEOs, tycoons, entrepreneurs and investors in a dialogue that capped a conference organized under the theme “Transcending the Turbulence.” The program featured panels on a range of issues, from rising economic uncertainty and growing populism to technological disruption and global trade friction.
Singapore, a bellwether for international trade, has seen its economic prospects falter as a result of the trade war between its two of its largest trading partners. Singapore’s economy grew by 0.1% in the third quarter of 2019, according to advance estimates by the Ministry of Trade.
The trade war means “fewer opportunities for our companies to invest in China and export to America, or to invest in America and do business with China,” said Lee. “And these are all win-win opportunities, which is the essence of what international trade is, and it is how the world has prospered for many decades.”
Lee also said Singapore was pursuing reduced tariffs and greater access to regional markets through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the trade accord between the 11 nations that were negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership before the U.S. pulled out of negotiations in 2017. “We have dropped only a few articles that were primarily of concern to the Americans, but the rest of the countries are going ahead. And one day, the Chinese may be interested in joining the CPTPP,” he said.
To support Singapore’s growth, the city state also needs to find the right balance for immigration. “If we could open our doors, we could double our population overnight, and that would not be a wise idea,” Lee said.
Addressing global concerns about growing income inequality and housing affordability, Lee noted that Singapore had provided its citizens with a standard of housing that continues to elude its fellow regional financial center Hong Kong. Public housing is available to every Singaporean, who can apply a portion of their retirement savings towards their home. “We believe in Singapore that it’s very important for every household to own their own home because it gives them a stake, it gives them a sense of permanence.” the prime minister said.