Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Singapore's trade pact push starting to pay off


Singapore has stepped up a drive to expand its web of free-trade deals, with a half dozen pacts now in negotiation and as many as nine more that could be launched, the trade ministry said.

The rising total comes after a flurry of diplomacy this year that focused attention chiefly on the Middle East, and represents one of the more ambitious national trade policy agendas in Asia.

Singapore officials are already in formal talks with counterparts in Canada, India, South Korea, Mexico, Panama, plus a three-way set of talks that embraces Chile and New Zealand, according to a statement from the Ministry of Trade and Industry seen yesterday.

In addition, Singapore has agreed to launch talks with Pakistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, and China, and to "explore" talks with Oman, Qatar and Sri Lanka, said the statement.

It has already inked pacts with the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Jordan, and several European states including Norway and Switzerland. All but the Jordanian deal are already in force.

If all the deals are concluded, Singapore's trade network would "cover a large proportion" of the country's total trade, the statement said, without giving a precise figure or a likely timeframe.

Bilateral deals are forged along-side slower-moving multilateral talks organized by the WTO, whose members are attempting to reach a global deal to liberalize trade under the so-called Doha Development Round, which started in late 2001.

Singapore said its network of bilateral deals helps to spur regional or global talks.

"These free-trade agreements should be viewed positively as catalysts [to liberalization], not as an 'insurance policy'" in case the Doha round fails, the statement said.

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