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Japan And Singapore Agree To Sign Trade Deal

Leaders from Singapore and Japan agreed earlier this week to sign a bilateral free trade agreement which comes at a time when New Zealand is also to sign a similar agreement with Singapore. John Howard reports.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and his Singaporean counterpart Goh Chok Tong, who was on a three day visit to Japan, have pledged to begin talks in January which would see a bilateral-trade accord established by late next year.

It would be Japan's first bilateral trade accord and Singapore's second. Singapore is about to sign its first ever bilateral accord with New Zealand.

Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hiroyuki Minami said the two countries plan to seal the pact by December 2001 although the leaders did not discuss specifics that would be included in next year's talks.

Until now, Japan has entered only multilateral trade agreements instead of establishing agreements with individual countries.

Traditionally, Japan has negotiated through the World Trade Organisation but the WTO is under increasing pressure and is seen by many countries to be failing.

The Japanese spokesman said it was possible that Japan would also establish bilateral free-trade ties with Mexico, Chile and other countries, but the government would first watch how well the deal with Singapore goes.

It is expected the accords would cover such topics as cross-border investment and customs duties.

However, concerns are being raised about bilateral free-trade agreements between individual countries with nobody able to ultimately prove the origins of their products and whether they originated in low wage countries with poor human rights records.

Opponents say that Japan could buy products from low wage countries, export it to Singapore under their new free trade agreement and Singapore could then place its labels of origin on them for export to New Zealand under our new free-trade agreement with Singapore. Something like a trade merry-go-round they say.


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