“I’m a strong supporter of TPP because it will reduce tariffs — taxes, basically — on American goods, from cars to crops, and make it easier for Americans to export into the fastest-growing markets of the world,” said President Obama during a joint White House press conference with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. “TPP levels the playing field for our workers and helps to ensure countries abide by strong labor and environmental rules.”
The joint press conference took place hours before the White House held a state dinner in Lee’s honor. The Singaporean prime minister earlier in the day attended a luncheon at the State Department with Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Biden.
Kerry said more than 3,700 American countries “have a presence” in Singapore.
He noted the small island city-state that is located south of the Malaysian mainland asked the U.S. to join the TPP. Kerry also described the trade agreement as “a pact that is good for American workers and businesses, good for Singapore, good for the environment and essential to unite 40 percent of the global economy around standards that create a race to the top, not a race to the bottom.”
Lee noted both Biden and Obama have “made a strong case” for the TPP. He expressed optimism that Congress would soon ratify it.
“We are near the finish line,” said Lee at the White House. “We hope that the countries — particularly the U.S. — will be able to ratify the TPP as soon as possible.”
The TPP would include Singapore, the U.S., Malaysia, Brunei, Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam if the countries ratify it.
Singapore is among the more than 70 countries around the world in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. Pride at Work and other advocacy groups that oppose the TPP have noted it lacks LGBT-specific provisions.
Ned Price, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday after Obama and Lee’s press conference that “countering violence and discrimination against LGBT persons is a priority of our human rights agenda.”
“In our conversations with governments in Southeast Asia, we frequently urge the removal of any laws that they may have on the books that criminalize consensual same-sex relations and to ensure that LGBT persons are protected under anti-discrimination laws,” said Price. “This is an issue we have frequently raised with our Singaporean counterparts, and we will continue to do so.”
The State Department has not immediately returned the Blade’s comment about whether Kerry and Lee discussed Singapore’s LGBT rights record on Tuesday.