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Asia Business: The Week Ahead - 2002-11-18

Moody's Investors Service has raised South Korea's credit rating outlook from stable to positive. The agency says the change was prompted by South Korea's "significantly reduced vulnerability to an external payment crisis".

Moody's applauded the government's willingness to maintain large foreign exchange reserves, which help buffer the country's economy against global downturns.

Robert Subarrahman, a senior economist in Asia for investment bank Lehman Brothers, says the move may signal further upgrades by the ratings agency. "Well, I think it's a vote of confidence that Korea has made a lot of progress in structural economic reforms five years on from the Asia [economic] crisis," he says. "Korea's sovereign credit rating is already four notches above non-investment grade and this is a hint that one of the most prominent rating agencies is considering a further upgrade."

In Hong Kong, the government has canceled official land sales for next year, as part of a series of measures aimed at boosting the property market. The government hopes that limiting the supply of land will help property prices stop their five-year slide. The government estimates property sales and construction accounted for about 14 percent of Hong Kong's gross domestic product over the past five years.

Raymond Fok, a Hong Kong real estate agent, says the public's interest in buying homes has picked up since the announcement. "I think before most of the people are not confident. The government will control the supply and stop the sale of land," he says. "So I think the transactions will be more."

In other news, the Heritage Foundation in the United States and the Wall Street Journal named Hong Kong as the world's freest economy for the ninth consecutive year. However, a jump in Hong Kong's public expenditure and its ballooning government deficit hurt the territory's score. Singapore came in second in the annual survey.

And in Singapore, a 10-year-old ban on importing chewing gum has become a sticking point in trade negotiations with the United States. The United States is lobbying for an end to the ban as part of a free trade agreement with Singapore. The city-state banned chewing gum in 1992, saying that it cost too much to clean used gum off the streets and public transport.