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PM Lee to sign update to S’pore-Japan FTA

Channel NewsAsia, Singapore

PM Lee to sign update to S’pore-Japan FTA

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia

17 March 2007

SINGAPORE : A review of the Singapore-Japan Free Trade Agreement (FTA) has concluded very satisfactorily.

And Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is visiting Japan from March 18 to 21, will be signing the update to the agreement.

Mr Lee gave a wide-ranging interview to a group of Japanese journalists recently at the Istana, the transcript of which was released on Saturday.

It has been five years since Singapore concluded the FTA with Japan.

And Prime Minister Lee said trade has increased about 20 percent and there has been significant growth.

Also, after the Singapore-Japan agreement, Japan started negotiating FTAs with other countries.

But since 2002, the world has changed and the new FTAs which Japan has concluded have new provisions, hence the need to review and update the FTA with Singapore.

On the ASEAN-Japan Free Trade Agreement, Mr Lee hopes the negotiations would move faster.

He said it is a very important FTA for ASEAN because Japan is a major trading partner.

And both sides have to make some not-so-easy decisions to conclude it.

PM Lee explained : "It’s a very important FTA for Japan too, not just because of the volume of trade but also strategically. Japan wants to forge the CEPEA, the East Asia-wide cooperation FTA. But if you are not able to have a good ASEAN-Japan FTA, you have no hope of having a good East Asia-wide FTA, because more participants means more issues, and more complexity.

"To start off with, you need to demonstrate that Japan is serious and able to conclude a good FTA with ASEAN and, on that basis, have a strong axis of cooperation with ASEAN and then build on that to develop a wider CEPEA involving the rest of East Asia.

"I think both sides have to make some not-so-easy decisions, to conclude the ASEAN-Japan FTA. But as I said, it should be seen not just from the economic perspective. We hope that Japan will take a national view of what is at stake and not just see this as the sum of various departmental agreements and whatever the departments can agree, we put them together and call it an FTA. I think that will not be optimal.

"If you compare this with the ASEAN-China FTA, which was launched only a few weeks before the ASEAN-Japan FTA, it has made significant progress. We already have a goods chapter, we have a services chapter, and we are going to sign the investment chapter. I think there might be something there which Japan can pick up in its approach."

Turning to the nuclear issue, Mr Lee expressed concern over the impact of a nuclear-armed North Korea on the security of Northeast Asia and the possible reactions in Japan, South Korea, China and other major countries in the region.

Describing it as something very worrying, he hopes the issue will be addressed through the six-party talks, and the situation can be stabilised.

Besides meeting his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo, Mr Lee will also hold discussions with other key Japanese ministers.

They include Foreign Affairs Minister Taro Aso and Finance Minister Koji Omi.

PM Lee is also expected to meet Japanese business leaders, such as those from Sumitomo Corporation and NEC, who have huge investments in Singapore.

During his visit, the Emperor and Empress of Japan will also host a luncheon for Mr Lee.

His delegation includes Mrs Lee, Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo and Trade and Industry Minister, Lim Hng Kiang.