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Singapore welcomes U.S. Senate's passage of free trade deal

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Singapore (dpa) - The Singapore government hailed on Friday the U.S. Senate's history-making passage of a free trade deal between the two countries as underscoring "Southeast Asia's economic and strategic importance".

The Senate voted 66-32 Thursday on the free trade agreement (FTA) with the city-state, and 66-31 for a similar pact with Chile, making Singapore the first Asian nation to gain such status, and Chile the first South American.

The pact - signed by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and President George W. Bush on May 6 in Washington and approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 25 - is expected to come into force by January, 2004.

The FTA "will increase the flow of trade, investment, talent, ideas and technology across the Pacific", the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said in a statement.

It "opens a new chapter in the bilateral economic relations between the United States and Singapore, and builds on the robust economic ties between the two countries", MTI said.

Conceived during a golf game between Goh and former U.S. president Bill Clinton, the FTA eliminates tariffs and other trade barriers on nearly 33 billion U.S. dollars in annual trade between the two countries.

The U.S. gains greater access to financial and other service sectors in the city-state, with the pact serving as a blueprint for others FTAs with Asian nations.

The deal has also been touted as a way for Washington to increase its visibility in Southeast Asia and its 500 million consumers.

While the U.S. is Singapore's largest trading partner, the city-state is 11th in the world's economic powerhouse rankings.

The agreement means tariff savings of about 110 million U.S. dollars annually for Singapore, with a population of 4.2 million people and no natural resources.

The city-state also stands to gain in thousands of jobs likely to be created, as manufacturing companies seek to house some part of their operations in Singapore to benefit from tariff exemptions.

Ministry for Trade & Industry George Yeo said the FTA will create new and good jobs, help attract more high-quality investment and "strengthen our position as a manufacturing and services hub".

"It will help us in our economic restructuring and make us more competitive in the global marketplace," he added.

Singapore, Southeast Asia's foremost advocate of FTAs, has successfully wrapped up deals with Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the European Free Trade Association, and is negotiating FTAs with several other countries.

Copyright 2003 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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