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WASHINGTON: The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) proposed by the US needs to be “inclusive” and provide “tangible benefits” to encourage wider participation, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (May 12).

Singapore welcomes the proposed framework, said Mr Lee, speaking at an engagement with the US-ASEAN Business Council and the US Chamber of Commerce.

The IPEF aims to set regional standards for cooperation, and includes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states. The new US economic strategy for the Indo-Pacific is expected to be formally launched when US President Joe Biden visits Japan later this month.

President Biden had previously announced at a virtual summit with ASEAN in October 2021 that Washington would start talks about developing the IPEF.

“It needs to be inclusive and provide tangible benefits to encourage wider participation and it should cover cooperation in areas like digital and green economies and infrastructure because these issues will resonate strongly in the region,” said Mr Lee during the engagement on Thursday.

“We encourage greater ASEAN participation in the IPEF and we hope the US will directly invite and engage ASEAN member states in this endeavour.”

This engagement is part of the Mr Lee’s five-day working visit to Washington DC from May 10 to May 14 to attend the ASEAN-US Special Summit hosted by President Biden.

The Summit was originally scheduled for March. This is the second Special Summit between the US president and ASEAN leaders since 2016.

Including Mr Lee, eight ASEAN leaders are expected to take part in the summit. Myanmar’s leader was excluded, in line with ASEAN’s earlier position, and the Philippines is represented by its foreign affairs secretary following its recent presidential election.

President Biden has promised to spend US$150 million on ASEAN infrastructure, security, pandemic preparedness and other efforts.

This includes a US$40 million investment in infrastructure intended to help decarbonise ASEAN’s power supply, US$60 million in maritime security, and US$15 million in health funding to aid in early detection of COVID-19 and other respiratory pandemics.

The US President welcomed leaders from Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines for dinner at the White House on Thursday evening, ahead of their meeting with him on Friday where they are expected to exchange views on regional and global issues.

Digital trade, trade facilitation and supply chain resilience, as well as capacity building, should “ideally” be covered under the US’ proposal for the IPEF, said Mr Lee.

Digital trade can harness ASEAN’s growing digital potential by facilitating cross-border data flows and supporting workers and small-to-medium enterprises in the digital economy, said Mr Lee.

This will also take advantage of ASEAN’s ongoing work on digital trade standards, data and digital utilities, and payments, he added.

“A resilient supply chain is fundamentally underpinned by strong connectivity, so that there is early detection and timely responses to potential disruptions,” said Mr Lee.

He added that Singapore welcomes collaboration to build digital capabilities, and to strengthen regional connectivity and logistics infrastructure.

“And I am glad that we have discussions ongoing now to link the ASEAN Single Window to the United States.”

The ASEAN Single Window is a regional platform that enables the electronic exchange of border trade-related documents among member states, promoting economic integration.

Singapore also supports regional human capital development, including through the US-Singapore Third Country Training Programme, which was most recently renewed in September 2021, he said.

Mr Lee also met with Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh on the sidelines of the Summit on Thursday.

The two leaders affirmed “excellent”  bilateral relations and discussed possible areas to further enhance bilateral cooperation, said the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

Mr Lee also congratulated Prime Minister Chinh on the successful opening of the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi.

Both leaders look forward to commemorating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and 10th anniversary of the Strategic Partnership between Singapore and Vietnam next year, PMO said.

On Thursday, Mr Lee and the other ASEAN leaders were also hosted by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to a bipartisan working lunch with Congressional Leaders.

“Both sides exchanged views on global and regional issues, as well as the future of ASEAN-US cooperation,” said the PMO.

Mr Lee also encouraged members of the Congress to continue supporting the ASEAN-US agenda, especially on trade and investment in the region, and for ASEAN and the US to continue exploring collaboration in new and mutually beneficial areas.