SINGAPORE - Singapore can expect to conclude a free trade agreement with
China by next year, a top government official said in remarks published Thursday
after meeting China's Vice Premier Wu Yi.
Talks on the FTA began last October.
"We think one to two years could be a reasonable time (frame) to look at" for
conclusion of an agreement, Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng was
quoted as saying in The Straits Times.
Wong spoke after co-chairing a meeting with Wu, whose four-day official visit
to the city-state was to end Thursday.
The report said both sides agreed the FTA should build on an FTA separately
being negotiated between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN). Singapore is a member of the 10-member regional bloc.
ASEAN and China signed a framework agreement on comprehensive economic
cooperation in 2002 and are expected to form a bilateral free trade area by
Trade-dependent Singapore has already signed free trade pacts with its major
trading partners, including the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
At a regional security conference last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
said China posed more of an economic than military challenge to Asian nations
despite US concern over its military build-up.
He added that the rest of Asia currently enjoys "warm ties" with China.
According to official statistics, China was Singapore's
fourth-largest trading partner in 2005 after Malaysia, Europe and the United
States. Total trade between the two countries was valued at 67 billion dollars
China urged Singaporean businesses to seize opportunities
that have opened up in the country, including in the services and energy
conservation and environmental protection sectors, the paper said.
"Americans and Japanese have all shown keen interest ... I hope
visionary business people in Singapore can move first and acquire an early
advantage," Wu was quoted as saying.
The two countries signed five
memoranda of understanding for cooperation in areas such as human resource
development, health and environment, and water resources, the report said.
A Singapore-China free trade agreement is expected to spur an ongoing
process by Southeast Asian nations to create a regional free trade area with
China. Plans were set in 2002 for the free trade zone that will create a market
of about 1.8 billion consumers and economic activity totaling more than $2
trillion (euro1.6 trillion).
Southeast Asia is a key market for Chinese manufacturers,
as well as a source for energy, rubber, minerals and other natural