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Beijing Loosens Restrictions on Foreign Investment in China's Securities Industry

China has eased a ban on foreign investments in its securities industry and Singapore's economy shrank for the first time in four years in the fourth quarter. Claudia Blume at VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong has more on these and other stories in our weekly round up of business news from the region.

Beijing announced new rules that allow single foreign investors to buy up to 20 percent of Chinese securities firms. Total foreign ownership is limited to 25 percent, and securities companies must have at least one Chinese owner who holds 33 percent or more.

Chinese regulators banned foreign investments in domestic securities houses in 2005, when Beijing began overhauling the brokerage sector.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his New Year's message that the country's economy grew 7.5 percent in 2007 - below forecasts for eight percent growth. Growth slowed to six percent in the fourth quarter, reflecting weakness in the manufacturing sector.

Lee predicted that Singapore's economy will grow by 6.5 percent or less in 2008, because of a slowdown in the United States. The U.S. is Singapore's second biggest export market for non-oil exports.

Michael Palmer, a member of Singapore's parliament, said another concern for the city-state is rising inflation.

"From the ground we are already hearing people talking about the cost of living going up, food especially, basic necessities like rice, milk, bread," he said. "These people feel the pinch every day."

Hong Kong toy makers warned that hundreds of Hong Kong-owned toy factories in China may be closed as a result of new quality measures. In 2007, foreign toy companies recalled millions of toys made in China over safety concerns. As a result, Beijing and foreign buyers imposed strict quality checks.

The Hong Kong Toy Council says the costs for quality control have risen by at least 500 percent since June. The council expects that these costs, along with rising prices for labor and raw materials, will push production costs in 2008 up by about 15 percent.

More than four million foreign tourists visited Indonesia in the first 11 months of 2007, a rise of 14 percent from a year earlier. The increase was boosted by a 32 percent surge in foreign visitor arrivals on the island of Bali.

Tourism on Bali had dropped significantly after terrorist bombings on the island in 2002 and 2005.