- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

Singapore Inc.

Singapore means business, and Singapore's ambassador is its top executive abroad.

"Free trade and fair trade is a philosophy we live by," said Ambassador Chan Heng Chee.

Mrs. Chan made her pitch this week to the National Governors Association at its conference in Rhode Island, a state about five times the size of her Southeast Asian island nation off the tip of the Malay Peninsula.

Mrs. Chan pointed out what she called "an interesting paradox."

"The United States is a superpower. It is the world's largest economy. Singapore is a small state. The United States and Singapore are major trading partners," she said.

The United States ranks as the most competitive economy in the world, while Singapore is No. 2, she said, citing several studies. Singapore is also the second-freest economy in the world, behind Hong Kong, according to the Heritage Foundation. The United States is fourth.

Last year, Singapore was the United States' 10th largest trading partner with $37 billion in bilateral business and its top market in Southeast Asia. The 250-square-mile city state has one of the world's largest ports and is a major center for oil refining, electronics and banking.

"Singapore is a country without natural resources. We also do not have a hinterland," Mrs. Chan said. "But that has spurred us on to look for creative ways of making a living. Think of us as the little country that could.

"Singapore took to globalization and free trade as a fish to water," she added, "and we have survived and improved our standard of living and quality of life through openness and by engaging with the world."

While her country embraces global free trade, the concept is a "complex sell" in Southeast Asia, she said.

"The forces of protectionism strengthened and the pace of liberalization slowed in the face of the economic slowdown in the United States, and in Asia because of our financial crisis in 1997," she said.

Free-trade agreements that can be tailored to meet the needs of bilateral-trading partners have more appeal in the region, she said.

The United States and Singapore began negotiations on a free-trade agreement last year.

"In strategic terms," she said, "the U.S.-Singapore free-trade agreement will anchor the United States in the Asia-Pacific region, and it will signal U.S. commitment to the region."

Noriega at OAS

Roger Noriega called the Organization of American States essential to the strengthening of democracy in the Western Hemisphere, when he presented his credentials yesterday as U.S. ambassador to the 35-nation group.

"I'm a firm believer that if the OAS didn't exist, we would need to invent it. We have a great organization," he said.

Mr. Noriega pledged to work "very closely, cooperatively and respectfully to accomplish some common objectives to improve the well-being of our people."

He said the OAS top priority is to develop a "democratic charter that is practical [and] has the effect of strengthening democratic institutions in this hemisphere."

"As we do that," he added, "we assure that when we build a free-trade area in the Americas that we are building a community of democracies and not just a commercial arrangement."

OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria noted Mr. Noriega's expertise in hemispheric affairs.

"He knows the OAS very well and has had a lot of experience dealing with Latin American and Caribbean problems," he said.

Mr. Noriega is a former aide to Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, who chaired the Foreign Relations Committee until the Democrats took control of the Senate.

In his work with the committee, Mr. Noriega conducted studies critical of Clinton administration policies in the region.

One study accused the Clinton State Department of covering up political killings in Haiti to make President Jean-Bertrand Aristide look good after President Clinton restored him to power in 1994.

Another blamed the Clinton administration or repeatedly certifying Mexico as a partner in the drug war when the country was failing to control drug trafficking.

The certification of Mexico's anti-drug efforts has "become a farce," he once wrote.

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