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Other countries urged to join P4 trade agreement

Other countries urged to join P4 trade agreement

19 June 2006

NZ Press Association (NZPA)/New Zealand and Singapore are encouraging other countries to join the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, dubbed the "P4" that also includes Chile and Brunei.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was in Wellington today holding official talks with Prime Minister Helen Clark.

His visit to New Zealand and Australia is Mr Lee’s first official trip since elections in Singapore in May.

Miss Clark said the relationship between the two countries was a substantial, strong and good one.

New Zealand and Singapore signed a free trade agreement in 2000 and Miss Clark said today she hoped New Zealand businesses would use it to expand their trade in the region.

Mr Lee said this agreement was reviewed from time to time and would be improved as needed.

He said New Zealand was a very old friend of Singapore.

Both were little countries, looking at what was happening in the region and world with a certain "wariness" and "alertness" so they could track developments and gauge how these would affect the two countries, he said.

Mr Lee said the two leaders had had a good exchange of views during their talks today.

Asked about the P4 agreement, he said it was designed to be open and ministers from the two countries had been encouraging others to join it.

Mr Lee said Singapore would like it to grow.

"We have some names possibly in mind," Mr Lee said, adding he did not plan to announce these countries now.

However, he did say Australia was one country Singapore did want to join up.

"We’re very happy to have others come in," Miss Clark said.

New Zealand and Australia are also wanting a free trade agreement with the 10-member block of Asean countries.

The negotiations were taking longer than was liked but it was complex to reach a consensus with all the countries, Mr Lee said.

Singapore had encouraged New Zealand and Australia to take a pragmatic approach. Such an agreement did not have to be done all at once, he said, but could be progressively phased in.

Miss Clark told reporters the pair had not discussed free speech in Singapore but Mr Lee was questioned by New Zealand media about it at their joint press conference.

Singapore opposition politician Chee Soon Juan and two supporters have been summoned to appear in court for speaking in public without a permit.

Mr Lee said Singapore had no reason for wanting to restrict the democratic and political rights of leaders.

He said people in Singapore could make speeches, publish articles, post publications on the Internet, speak publicly and contest elections. He said 47 opposition candidates had stood at the election but the electorate had rejected them.

Mr Lee said Mr Chee was trying to make himself a martyr by deliberately going against the rules.

Public speaking is prohibited in Singapore unless speakers have been licensed by the government.