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NZ, Australia should be patient over ASEAN trade deal : Singapore PM

Antara | 19 June 2006

NZ, Australia should be patient over ASEAN trade deal : Singapore PM

ASEAN, South Korea Prepare To Sign FTA

Wellington (ANTARA News) - New Zealand and Australia will have to be patient over striking a free trade deal with ASEAN countries, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Monday.

Lee met New Zealand counterpart Helen Clark and other members of her cabinet in the capital Monday as part of a five day visit to the country.

New Zealand and Australia have been seeking a free trade agreement with the 10 member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) but progress has been slow.

Lee told reporters that reaching a consensus amongst all the 10 countries was a complex matter and Australia and New Zealand should be pragmatic and not seek an ideal agreement right from the start.

"We don’t have to do it all in one big step but progressively phase in the liberalizations and the benefits so that the relationship will grow," Lee was quoted as saying by AFP.

New Zealand and Singapore signed a bilateral free trade agreement in 2000 and are members of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, known as the P4 with Chile and Brunei.

Lee said both countries were encouraging others to join the P4 trade grouping.

"We have some names possibly in mind," Lee said, citing Australia as one example.

Clark said earlier that Lee’s visit would focus on trade and investment with Singapore serving as a critical hub for many New Zealand businesses in Asian markets.

Singapore was New Zealands eighth largest trading partner last year with trade totalling 1.66 billion dollars (1.03 billion US).

Clark said she and Lee had not discussed free speech in Singapore where there are strict controls on political gatherings and opposition politicians have been subject to government lawsuits, usually for defamation. Singapore leaders say such cases are to protect their reputations.

A lone demonstrator shouted protests as Lee arrived at the parliament for a 19-gun salute and Maori welcome.

Lee will meet New Zealand business leaders in Auckland on Tuesday before leaving for home on Wednesday.

 source: Antara