- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

Chan Heng Chee, the ambassador of Singapore, said yesterday that her government hopes that Congress approves a free-trade agreement with her country this summer, but "the main thing is that it is done."
"This is an important trade bill," she told editors and reporters at a luncheon at The Washington Times. "It anchors [the United States] in my region."
The Bush administration is readying two trade agreements for Congress as it lays the foundation for trade pacts in other regions of the world.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said yesterday that the administration would notify Congress that it will sign deals with Singapore and Chile "very soon," setting in motion a process that would allow legislators to vote on the pacts as early as this spring and certainly before the end of the year.
The administration completed negotiations with Chile in December and with Singapore earlier this month on agreements to lower tariffs, open services markets and protect investments.
The free-trade agreement with Singapore, a major manufacturer of electronic components, would be the first for the United States in Asia. Mrs. Chan said that the pact would set the standard for others in the region.
The Southeast Asian city-state physically about 3 times the size of the District with a population of nearly 4.5 million people has been a close ally of the United States, dating from the Vietnam war, and is America's 11th-biggest export market.
President Bush held out in the fall the possibility of trade pacts with 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations through the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative. China, Japan and India also are seeking closer economic ties with the ASEAN nations through regional trade agreements, Mrs. Chan said.
Republican congressmen who oversee trade in Congress said this week that the deals are held as a priority, as well as a way to establish bipartisan consensus on trade.
Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said yesterday that the Chile deal is a "good precedent for future agreements," though he cautioned that the Senate had not yet seen or agreed on final language.
The administration this year is formally negotiating with Morocco, five countries in Central America and five in southern Africa, and is in multilateral talks on a 34-nation Free Trade Area of the Americas and an update of World Trade Organization rules. Talks with Australia also are expected this year.
The Chile and Singapore votes, expected to move forward separately but on similar timelines, would be the first since the administration won trade-promotion authority last year. The bill, which passed the House of Representatives by only three votes, allows the president to negotiate trade agreements and then submit them to Congress for a yes-or-no vote without amendments.
Administration and congressional officials expect a final vote on the new pacts this fall, and no objections have materialized thus far.
At a meeting yesterday at the Capitol to promote the agreement with Chile, legislators from both sides of the aisle said that they could support it.
"I'm hopeful we can deliver on it in this Congress. I don't want it to become partisan," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, who voted against trade-promotion authority last year.
Mr. Zoellick drew a parallel between the Chile agreement and the ongoing Central America talks and said the agreements would lend momentum to a hemisphere-wide pact.


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