- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Strategic market

Singapore's free-trade agreement with the United States sends an important signal to the U.S. market, the U.S. ambassador to the Southeast Asian nation said yesterday.

"This tells American businesses that Singapore has become, in a sense, a strategic market, not in terms of size, necessarily, but in terms of its ease of entry. It is the easiest market in Asia to enter," Ambassador Frank Lavin said in a luncheon speech.

Mr. Lavin said both the United States and Singapore stand to profit from the agreement, which will remove tariff barriers to both nations' exports and provide protection for U.S. copyrights, trademarks, patents and other intellectual-property rights.

The ambassador said the agreement will especially benefit banking services. It will allow U.S. banks to open branch offices and use Singapore's automated teller machine network.

The agreement will also protect property rights in the development of computer software, the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and the distribution of movies and music.

Singapore also agreed to remove protection for businesses that are partially owned by the government.

"The Singaporean government has also undertaken an obligation to the United States that [government-linked businesses] will operate purely on commercial terms," Mr. Lavin said.

Singapore also stands to benefit from the deal through the reduction of tariffs and the elimination of a merchandise-processing fee imposed on its exports to the United States, he said.

Singapore estimates it will save $172 million a year in tariff reductions and $29 million from the end of the merchandise fee.

Transport security

The United States is preparing a detailed plan for transportation security in the vital Asia-Pacific region, according to the U.S. ambassador to the region's 21-member trading group.

"There is urgency in virtually everything we are doing. The terrorists aren't going to wait until we are ready to attack again," Ambassador Larry Greenwood told officials of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) bloc at a meeting in Bangkok.

He said Washington will present the plan at APEC's annual meeting in October.

Eduardo Aguirre, vice chairman of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, also told the officials that the region must tighten transportation security or risk losing trade in a future terrorist attack.

"For free trade to be effective, it has to be free of terrorism, sabotage and other such impediments. It cannot be hobbled by security issues," he said in a speech.

"As APEC governments identify their trade security needs, the Ex-Im Bank stands ready to support the export of U.S. equipment, technology and services that could meet these needs."

Mr. Aguirre said the United States needs other countries to guarantee the security of their exports because America cannot afford to shut down airports and rail systems again, as it did after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"Clearly this is not a viable long-term solution for any nation, least of all one where more than $2 trillion of trade flows through our ports and airports each year," he said.

The bank is the official credit agency of the U.S. government and helps finance American exports.

APEC, one of the world's largest trading blocs, includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

Karzai meets the press

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is due to meet the Washington press corps tomorrow after his meeting with President Bush.

Mr. Karzai will hold a 3 p.m. news conference at the National Press Club, where he is expected to discuss the continuing need for international aid to help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has received only a portion of the international aid promised at a donors' conference in Tokyo last year. Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah has estimated that his country has collected about one-tenth of the $4.5 billion promised.

The United States has given more than $400 million in aid.

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