S’pore and UK share view that trade blocs should remain open

Foreign ministers also agree on need for early conclusion to Gatt talks

THE present trend in forming regional trading blocs should not result in greater protectionism – this is the common view of Singapore and Britain, the Foreign Ministry said.

Such blocs should instead remain open to each other and help strengthen the multilateral trading system, it said in a statement yesterday, following a discussion between Foreign Minister Wong Kan Seng and visiting British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd.

Both countries also felt strongly that this process would be facilitated by an early conclusion of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt), the statement added.

This point was reiterated by Mr Hurd in his lecture yesterday on Britain in the Modern World, organised by the Institute of Policy Studies and British High Commission at Raffles Hotel.

“For our two islands – one misty and northern, the other steamy and equatorial – insularity is not an option,” he told his audience.

Within the European Community (EC), Britain fought the hardest to maintain an “open, liberal, outward-looking community”.

Britain had also negotiated hard to ensure that the Single European Market did not become an excuse for the creation of an isolationist “Fortress Europe”, he added.

He said the EC and Asean had worked to ensure that disputes between individual countries “should not interrupt the fuller development of links” between the two organisations.

He stressed that maintaining free world trade was vital and that “protectionism prevents trade and prevents wealth creation”, adding that countries had to bring down existing barriers.

“The successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round of Gatt talks continues, therefore, to be a priority,” he stressed.

The Group of Seven summit, he said, would give a push to the stalled Gatt negotiations.

The benefit of maintaining open markets was reflected in Singapore’s economic success, he said.

“You cannot, like some other economies, rely upon your domestic market. You cannot even, like some others, rely upon your immediate regional market.

“Instead, you have chosen to rely upon the world market – on markets on the other side of the world. That brings with it a global vision, and a rejection of the parochial view,” said Mr Hurd, who is here on a two-day visit as a guest of Mr Wong.

During his visit, Mr Hurd held discussions with Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Trade and Industry Minister S. Dhanabalan and Mr Wong.

According to the Foreign Ministry statement, both Mr Wong and Mr Hurd exchanged views on developments in China, the Sino-British negotiations on Hongkong, the post-election situation in Cambodia, developments in Vietnam and the situation in Myanmar.

They also discussed Bosnia and the Group of Seven summit in Tokyo.

They noted that relations between Singapore and Britain were problem-free but felt that bilateral economic relations could be further intensified.

In this regard, Mr Wong asked Mr Hurd to encourage British businessmen to plug into growth regions of the world, especially the Asia-Pacific.

Mr Wong welcomed Mr Hurd’s suggestion that British businessmen enter into joint ventures with Singaporeans to invest in China, Vietnam and other parts of the region.

Mr Hurd left for Tokyo last night.

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