Singapore holding free trade talks with seven countries

  • Business
  • Thursday, 15 Jan 2004

SINGAPORE (AP) - Singapore is holding free trade talks with seven countries, and is making such trade agreements a cornerstone of its economic policy as it seeks opportunities away from its traditional Southeast Asian base, its trade minister said Thursday. 

"With globalisation, there is no longer a regional price. There is only one price, which is the international price,'' Trade Minister George Yeo said. 

In the past two years, the wealthy island nation has inked free trade pacts with the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, Yeo said. 

The government is currently holding talks with Bahrain, Canada, Chile, India, Jordan, South Korea and Sri Lanka, he said. 

Yeo said the agreements could "never be a substitute'' for trade liberalization under the World Trade Organization, but that they have become more important because of the failure of recent WTO talks. 

"If 10 years ago our emphasis was on regionalization, our emphasis for the future should now be on internationalization,'' he said. 

Singapore's trade with other Southeast Asian nations has remained steady over the past 10 years and accounts for a quarter of the city-state's total trade of 470 billion Singapore dollars (US$276 billion). 

But it is time for Singapore to look past its neighbors, Yeo said. 

"Our mental compass must therefore widen beyond the region, even though our actual moves are primarily in the region,'' he added. 

Singapore is heavily reliant on manufacturing but is now also looking at biomedical sciences, arts and media industries because of increasing competition from lower-cost countries such as India and China. 

"New opportunities are opening up to us in all directions. We must seize these opportunities. Nothing is static,'' Yeo said. - AP 

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