- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Singapore’s prime minister plans to ask President Bush to combat SARS with the same determination and cooperation used to fight terrorism, the island nation’s trade minister said yesterday.
   
   Prime Minister Chok Tong Goh is scheduled to be in Washington next week to sign a U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, the United States’ first such agreement with an Asian nation.
   
   But Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a sometimes deadly type of pneumonia, and the recent U.S.-led war against Iraq have changed the economic and political outlook of Southeast Asia, George Yeo, Singapore’s minister for trade and industry, said at a business meeting yesterday in Washington.
   
   Close to 200 cases of SARS have been reported in Singapore, according to World Health Organization figures released yesterday. Twenty-three have been fatal.
   
   Worldwide, the WHO reported 5,050 SARS cases, with 321 fatalities, as of yesterday.
   
   Mr. Yeo said the disease’s spread, as with terrorism, is a consequence of globalization.
   
   “The same jet airplanes that carry chips and PCs also carry terrorists and bugs,” he said.
   
   So the issues must be discussed as components of globalization, while not allowing trade liberalization to become a casualty, he said.
   
   The disease, which has hit China and Hong Kong hardest, is expected to hurt Southeast Asia’s economic growth, at least in the short-term.
   
   A World Bank report last week said SARS and the Iraq war have put East Asia, which includes Singapore, on “troubled and uncertain” economic footing.
   
   Hardest hit by SARS will be service industries that rely on face-to-face contact, like tourism, business travel, transportation and retail sales, the report said.
   
   While the disease has continued to spread and new cases are continually reported, at least one country has been able to control it. Vietnam yesterday became the first country to successfully contain its SARS outbreak, the WHO said.
   
   Singapore has taken strong measures against the disease, including quarantines, fines for people breaking quarantines, and mass cleanings at markets.
   
   Singapore’s economy relies on international trade.
   
   The free-trade agreement with the United States, seen in part as a reward for strong support of U.S. policy against terrorists and in the Middle East, is expected to help the country’s economy.
   
   But Mr. Yeo said it has much wider implications than just trade and economics.
   
   The treaty sends a signal to the region that the United States will remain politically and economically involved in Southeast Asia, Mr. Yeo said.
   
   The formal signing ceremony next week will send the agreement to Congress for an up-or-down vote, expected later this year.
   
   The agreement would be the first under trade-promotion authority won by Mr. Bush in August.
   
   Mr. Yeo said that while the main topic of discussion in the region has switched from Iraq to SARS, the impact of the war should not be discounted.
   
   The defeat of Saddam Hussein has strengthened moderate Muslims in Southeast Asia, and improved political and economic prospects in the region, he said.

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