Singapore Sells APEC, ASEAN Benefits in Free Trade Deal with US
Singapore fought back against APEC and ASEAN criticism of its packed free-trade agenda Tuesday as it began rushed negotiations with Washington to complete an agreement by the end of the year.
Both economic blocs, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) stood to gain from the initiative, head Singapore negotiator Tommy Koh said in Washington in his opening remarks, a copy of which were received here.
During last month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Brunei and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Singapore, concern was raised about the proliferation of free-trade pacts.
Critics argued they threatened to undermine the goals of the WTO with the prospect of bilateral clauses which clashed with existing multilateral commitments.
Singapore was singled out as the free trade agreement (FTA) pack leader, having concluded one deal with New Zealand and embarking on others with Japan, Australia, the United States, Canada and Mexico.
But Koh told US trade officials the planned Singapore-US tie up, announced during APEC by US President Bill Clinton and Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, had all-round benefits.
"We will succeed if we are united in our belief that a free trade agreement between the US and Singapore is good for our two countries, good for US-ASEAN relations, good for APEC and ... good for global trade liberalization under the aegis of the WTO," he said.
Some ASEAN countries were still experiencing difficulties as they emerged from the 1997 economic crisis "as a result, investor confidence in ASEAN, as a region, has not recovered to the pre-crisis level," he said.
"The US can help to restore confidence in ASEAN ... it could lead to other FTAs between the US and other ASEAN countries and it could lead eventually to a US-ASEAN" free trade agreement.
This is the first FTA Washington has negotiated with an Asian country.
The mushrooming FTAs, especially by APEC members looking for an alternative after the collapse of the WTO liberalization talks in Seattle last year, could reinforce one another, Koh said.
The net effect would be to lower trade and investment barriers which "will bring us closer to, not further from, the APEC vision of free trade and open investment in the Pacific."
Koh also gave a guarantee that Singapore would not pursue "any policy which would jeopardize the efficacy of the WTO".
On the sidelines of the APEC forum, noted economist Fred Bergsten singled out a planned FTA between Japan and Singapore as a likely obstacle to APEC's overall free trade goal -- SINGAPORE (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)