Ambassador Katherine Tai's Remarks Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement

As Delivered 

Good evening, everyone. It’s wonderful to see you. Thank you, Minister Gan, for welcoming us tonight, and to our hosts as well, Ambassador Kaplan. And many, many thanks to the Singapore Embassy and the US-ASEAN Business Council for gathering us together to celebrate this important milestone.
One thing I’m just going to remark on is, those of us in the front here, we promise that we don’t bite so I welcome you to come a little closer. Although I also know that the food and the drink are in the back. That’s always an attraction and usually, you know, the first thing you want to track when you come in to one of these rooms.
I also want to mention that, in the United States, our Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is just right around the corner, in a couple of days. It starts in May.  So, in that context, I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the thoughtful, truly thoughtful contributions of the Singaporean Diaspora here in the United States over the years to make our bilateral relationship that much more rich and meaningful.
Minister Gan, you’ll recall that I visited Singapore for the very first time as the U.S. Trade Representative, actually the first time I ever visited Singapore, a little more than two years ago.  That was a really important and wonderful trip, and I met with you and Prime Minister Lee to discuss how we can work together to address many of the emerging trade issues that we’re facing in the world. And those are issues that have certainly proliferated since then.
From those conversations, it was clear to me that we have a truly solid foundation to build upon.
You and your government have demonstrated true partnership every step along the way, and I really want to express my deep appreciation for them.
As many of you know, the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement was our first FTA with an Asian nation, which has been noted already tonight. We signed the FTA in 2003, and it entered into force on January 1, 2004, so this is the twentieth anniversary.
I also wanted to note that, in addition to the statistics that I’m going to recount that will complement the ones that have been noted before—I also while I was standing here looked at the Congressional vote count for the Singapore FTA. Because I know that it passed Congress with flying colors. And it was 63% in the House, 67% in the Senate.
And I wanted to reflect on that because I think that that is actually a really important indicator of the robust support for this particular partnership, and how that support remains very durable to this day.
20 years, of course, is a long time for anything. I think that if the FTA were an American, it would be able to drive, and vote, and it’s almost, almost, ready to drink.
For the last two decades, this agreement has been such an important part of our bilateral economic relationship and a real testament to the strong trade and investment ties between our two countries.
Here are some of the numbers I promised you.
Our bilateral trade has gone from $40 billion in 2003 to over $120 billion in 2022, and as you noted, supporting more than 225,000 jobs here in the United States.
The United States is the leading source of foreign direct investment for Singapore at over $300 billion, more than our investments in Japan, Korea, and the People’s Republic of China, combined.
But more importantly, it was evident to me throughout my first visit – and the ones that have come after –we share common values, and a vision for how we can adapt to new changes and challenges developing right before our eyes. 
This is because we know that our economies—while we talk about our economies in terms of numbers all the time—that our economies are more than just numbers. 
Our economies are made up of our people—working people and their communities. 
And I’ll say something else I learned by visiting Singapore, was to see an incredibly beautiful and thoughtful architecture throughout your city-state. Beautiful, green, high tech, and also as was explained to me, how Singapore the government has thought through at very, very deep levels the diversity in your population and how to reflect that in the places where people live.
That point of intentionality around maintaining the integrity of community in Singapore is something that I have been very inspired by since that first visit.
What we would like to do is to work together in these next 20 years to ensure that our economic relationship continues to deliver for our people and to deliver more equitable and more sustainable outcomes for those people.
To democratize economic opportunity in our countries. To make sure that all parts of our societies can enjoy the benefits of this increased trade and enhanced relationship. 
Now the world economy is very different today than when we signed our FTA, and it will be very different two decades from now.
Let’s not be quick to forget the disruptions and shocks we all experienced through the pandemic.  We’re also grappling with the reality of unfair trade practices and economic coercion.
In parallel with these tensions, working and underserved communities across our societies are more acutely feeling a sense of economic insecurity.
And in this new reality, we need to see the world as it is as fellow democracies. Our traditional FTA approach, which saw a lot of success in this relationship, it has focused on maximum liberalization and efficiency, and it has certainly benefitted sectors of our economies. But we also have to acknowledge that it has hurt other sectors of certainly our economy.
And this is why we feel so keenly right now the need for a new approach, a new way of navigating the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and doing that together with some of our closest partners.
We can take our wins and make them better—to be more far reaching, more equitable, and as durable as this FTA has proven to be. We can take the shortfalls and we can improve upon those. There are ways to make trade work for more people, without pitting parts of our economies against others. 
And so we are forging ahead. To build our middle classes together. To shape a world that we can be proud to hand off to the next generation.
And this is something new; it is bold and let me be the first to admit, it is not easy. But Singapore has been and will continue to be a critical partner as we define the next era of trade and economic policy.
In February, Minister Gan and I were in Abu Dhabi together for the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference, along with many of our colleagues.
And, one of these days perhaps we can all have a therapy session about it.
But for today let me just recall that a lot of the conversation there was centered around how we can deliver better results for working people around the world, and how we can ensure greater economic resiliency for more communities, especially for developing countries. 
And here again I want to acknowledge and recognize Singapore’s similar role as a member of ASEAN to speak up for the developing members of ASEAN. And to remind us about the importance of a more inclusive approach to international economic relations.
I can’t tell you how glad I am to have an ally like Minister Gan in the room for those discussions in Abu Dhabi.  It really is a testament to the depth of our bilateral relationship and the trust that you and I have developed over the years.
And this of course also applies to the work we’ve been doing on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, or as we’ve been calling it, the IPEF.
I know that everyone in this room has invested a lot in the IPEF and with respect to the trade pillar in particular. And I’d like to thank all of you for your support. And I want to let you know that in the months and in the years ahead, we have more work to do.
We’re tremendously proud of what we have accomplished. And we’re looking forward to unveiling and sharing what we’ve accomplished with everyone around the world.
The discussions that we’ve been engaged in are hard, precisely because the work is so consequential. But I am really optimistic because of partners like Singapore. And the United States is committed to working with Singapore and our other partners on this because we understand what’s at stake.
Our Administration’s worker-centered trade policy can be summed up like this—trade is really about human beings, the human beings who comprise our economies, and it needs to address the needs of everyday people, no matter where you live and whether you have a college degree or not. 
So this is deeper than business to business ties—although those are very important—this is about people to people ties, it is about values to values. It’s about what we stand for, and what we want our collective world to look like.
Our FTA has been a good starting point for both of our countries, and I look forward to seeing Minister Gan again tomorrow morning when we convene a Joint Committee Meeting to go through all of the issues that our teams have been working on diligently throughout the year. 
We’ll remain focused on the work ahead to drive more inclusive, sustainable economic growth for all our people—and to shape the global trading system together, for the better.
I also wanted to note what a privilege and honor it was to have the chance to meet Prime Minister Lee on my first visit to Singapore. The Prime Minister has been an invaluable partner for the United States over the years. We have appreciated the deepening of U.S.-Singapore ties during his tenure, including the implementation of our FTA.
I also wanted to share with all of you that the Prime Minister is very well known for being a big thinker and a very deep thinker. And in the opportunity I had to sit down with him, we talked about U.S. trade policy today.
And he, as many people in the last three plus years has spent time probing with me, exactly what a worker-centered trade policy means. And it was because of meetings with you, Minister, and your fellow ministers within the administration in Singapore, that I had the opportunity to explain to Prime Minister Lee that Singapore has this very strong tradition of tripartism, where it’s the government coming together with the economy represented by employers and also by employees and workers.
And that this is the structure through which economic policy, domestic and internationally, really is made within Singapore.
And that one way of understanding that worker-centered trade policy that we’re advancing under President Biden is the building out of a kind of a tripartism within our system in terms of how we approach trade.
And I really am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to have that conversation with Prime Minister Lee. And to have that meeting of the minds, and to have his and his administration’s support for everything we have done together.
In the coming months, the United States and USTR look forward to working with Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and the new leadership team.
Thank you again for welcoming us, and enjoy the rest of your evening, and there’s one more thing I want to share with you about my trip to Singapore—that it is the Singaporeans who treated me to my first taste of durian.
I believe there are photographs and possibly even video, of this incredible opportunity to broaden my horizons.
I’m always happy to say—and I have been told that you need to try durian. If at first, you don’t acquire the taste—that repeating the experience about 25 more times would do it. I think I’ve got maybe 23 more times to do it and I know that Singapore will help me along on this journey as well.
Thank you so much.