Monday March 19, 2007
Singapore signs Japan FTA revision, urges bigger Japan role in ASEAN
(Kyodo) — Japan and Singapore on Monday officially signed a partial revision of their bilateral free trade agreement to advance financial deregulation and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Japan to play a greater role in the Southeast Asian region.
In a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Lee also conveyed his support for Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council as well as its run for a two-year non-permanent membership to begin 2009, Abe said in a joint news conference afterward.
"We have now brought the agreement up to date, made significant enhancement which will benefit both sides and which will take our relationship another step forward," Lee told the press conference.
"We also discussed how Japan could enhance its role in the region in Southeast Asia and in Asia," he added. "And I expressed my view that it is crucial for Japan to have a good and quick agreement on the Japan-ASEAN free trade agreement."
Singapore will take over the rotating chairmanship of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations later this year.
Singapore hopes Japan will engage more actively in the Southeast Asian region so as to balance the growing influence of China and avoid any single dominating power from developing in the region, a diplomatic source said.
Meanwhile, Abe was quoted by his spokesman Hiroshige Seko as telling Lee, "In order to reach a compromise over the agreement, we need a realistic approach that takes into consideration the sensitivities on both sides. Both Japan and ASEAN must make their best efforts to meet the negotiation deadline in April."
Officials from Japan and ASEAN have said recently they will not be able to conclude their negotiations for the economic partnership agreement mainly due to the sluggish pace of negotiations for goods and trade liberalization and now hope to strike a deal by summer.
Abe also took up China, India and North Korea in particular during his talks with Lee.
"China’s development is an opportunity for us. At the same time, there remains concern over the lack of transparency over China’s military spending," Abe was quoted as saying.
In response, Lee said stable relations between China and Japan, as well as China and the United States are crucial for their Asian neighbors in the region.
The Japanese premier called for Singapore’s continued cooperation and support for multilateral efforts aimed at defusing the North Korean nuclear standoff, Seko said.
Singapore’s Lee also suggested cooperation between Japan and Singapore in promoting Japanese culture in Southeast Asia, such as producing a television program to be broadcast throughout the region, according to the spokesman.
The revisions to the Japan-Singapore FTA, which was struck in 2002 as the first-ever FTA for Japan, will allow the two nations’ financial institutions to sell their investment trusts in the other country as part of measures to ease regulations in the financial service sector.
Singapore will also broaden the slots for banking licenses to Japanese banks that are establishing themselves in Singapore.
The revisions also include improved market access under which Japan will immediately eliminate tariffs on Singaporean imports such as mango, durian, asparagus and shrimp.
Bilateral trade grew by about 30 percent between November 2002, when the agreement took effect, and 2006, increasing from some 2.4 trillion yen to about 3.12 trillion yen.