Free Trade Deals Give Singapore Insurance

Nov. 17, 2006
We cannot eat disk drives, says Prime Minister.

Singapore's decision to sign a plethora of free trade agreements gives the tiny city-state an insurance should the global trading system flounder, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Nov. 17.

Lee told a business conference on the sidelines of an Asia Pacific summit in Vietnam that the wealthy but natural resources-starved nation "cannot eat the disk drives" churned out by its electronics industry. "The benefits to us of a free trade agreement (FTA) is that it assures us of our trading links with very important trading partners," said Lee, who is also the finance minister.

Singapore's foreign trade is three times its gross domestic product, possibly the highest proportion in the world, the premier said. "Without the foreign trade we will be dead. We cannot plant our own vegetables, we cannot grow our own rice," he said.

The island-republic has signed a network of FTAs with the U.S. Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and other countries in the Middle East and Latin America. It is negotiating similar pacts with Bahrain, Canada, China, Egypt, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Sri Lanka, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, according to the trade ministry.

Singapore is also part of sub-regional FTAs being negotiated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with China, India, Japan and South Korea.

With the current round of global trade talks in limbo, "we need to buy insurance and the way we buy insurance is to negotiate bilateral free trade agreements with our major trading partners," Lee said. "In case the world trading system runs into trouble, I have my access into these markets assured by a bilateral agreement."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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