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S’pore-Australia FTA can be updated to ’gold standard’: PM Lee

Channel NewsAsia, Singapore

S’pore-Australia FTA can be updated to ’gold standard’: PM Lee

By Channel NewsAsia’s May Wong reporting from Australia

17 June 2006

SYDNEY: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement could be updated to become a "gold standard FTA".

Mr Lee said: "Since you concluded the agreement with Singapore, you’ve signed one with Thailand, you’re negotiating one with Malaysia, and I think you’ve concluded one with the US.

"So new norms have been established and we should at the very least bring ourselves up to that benchmark, because what was good enough three years ago, today there’s a need for improvement.

"The review ought to take place in the context of our strategic relationship, but also of the view of establishing a gold standard FTA which can set the benchmark for your agreements with other countries, because if you’re negotiating with us, it’s actually the easiest country you can negotiate with. We have no farmers, we have no textiles, we don’t make cars, so why can’t we be friends?"

Mr Lee was also asked how Singapore and Australia can remain competitive in light of a rising China and India.

He said that the Chinese have formidable capabilities while the Indians have formidable potential.

But, Mr Lee added, countries like Singapore have a head-start, with good systems in place.

He cited the example of how a small country like Singapore can effectively ban chewing gum.

Mr Lee said: "It’s a frivolous example but it shows you that certain things you can do in a small country; you can make rules run, you can make the government work, you can enforce intellectual property, you can get through to the whole population, connect with them, get them on your wave-length, understand that this is quite a dangerous world and that we’re a small boat on high seas, and blow in the same direction and win the race, which is what we have to do."

PM Lee was speaking on Friday at the Asia Society AustralAsia Centre, an Australian think-tank, in Sydney.

He has since left Australia for New Zealand.