Fri, May 26, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Singapore’s Lee says Asia not ready for integration

AFP , TOKYO

Singapore elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew said yesterday it was too early for East Asia to follow the EU’s single currency system or borderless flow of people.

“Singapore would be uncomfortable,” Lee said. “Suddenly we would be flooded [with] millions of people from very poor neighborhoods and our standard would really go down.”

“So, I think let’s move step by step. Let’s help them face their economies,” the 82-year-old founding father of modern Singapore told a forum in Tokyo.

“Let’s wait and see ... how we can benefit each other. But they have one currency? Borderless East Asian community? I don’t see that,” he said. “Not yet. Maybe after 50, 70, 80 years we can consider, look at the matter again.”

Lee, who holds the influential position of minister mentor in his son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s cabinet, stressed the need to seek regional integration based first on free-trade agreements (FTAs).

Lee said countries in the region should concentrate on signing FTAs with their regional partners, which can lead to regional-wide FTAs in the long run.

“Gradually we can have a big FTA of the whole Asian region, which will increase the bargaining power of the Asian countries when we go to WTO to negotiate,” he said.

“We are one big free trade area, I think,” he said. “So, there is a reason for membership” of an East Asia summit.

Sixteen countries attended an inaugural Asian Summit in December.

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