SINGAPORE, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Negotiations on a free trade agreement between the United States and Singapore could be completed by the end of this week.
On Monday, Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry George Yeo told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "This week, we hope to conclude substantively our FTA with the U.S."
Talking to journalists after the luncheon, Yeo acknowledged that some issues had still to be worked out, but refused to give any details saying: "I feel uncomfortable talking about this because the negotiating team have just started their work today."
However, sources close to the negotiations have previously indicated that the remaining details centered on financial services and the opening of Singapore's banking sector to foreign players.
Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated that Singapore was set to further open its banking industry, saying such opening was "inevitable."
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick is expected to arrive Sunday in Singapore, on his way back from Sydney's informal mini-World Trade Organization meeting, for a day of talks with Yeo Monday. When pressed, Yeo would not commit on whether a FTA deal will be ready for signing on Nov. 18.
Yeo noted that the FTA would have very strong provisions for intellectual property rights that "will set a benchmark for the region."
Singapore has been at the forefront of bilateral FTA negotiations, and as already has concluded deals with New Zealand, Japan, the European Free Trade Area countries (Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland) and Australia. The latter was concluded last week and details have yet to be released. However, Yeo said, "It is an FTA that will strengthen and solidify the very close relationship between the two countries ... We want Australia to see Singapore as their Asia extension."
Singapore is also negotiating bilaterally with Canada and Mexico, and has announced plans to begin trilateral FTA negotiations with New Zealand and Chile next year.
Yeo defended regional FTA deals, which have been criticized as undermining the World Trade Organization negotiations, saying that all the countries of ASEAN had benefited from trade liberalization and saw the WTO as their best bet against arbitrary action by larger powers. "Small countries, in particular, have a strong vested interest in the proper functioning of a rule-based world," he said.