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US, Singapore Near Conclusion of Free Trade Deal

The United States and Singapore have nearly finished a historic free trade agreement. United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said most stumbling blocks were resolved Tuesday after an all night session of negotiations.

Washington's first free trade agreement with an Asian country is almost complete after nearly two years of negotiations.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said only one issue remained unresolved, which is the free transfer of capital, but it would be settled soon.

Mr. Zoellick, who arrived in the city-state on Sunday, told a news conference the actual signing of the pact will be early next year and will come into effect in 2004.

"Singapore and the United State have completed the substance of the free trade agreement we have been negotiating except for one issue. And in coming weeks, we will be completing the drafting of the legal text. And we will then be notifying the U.S. Congress in compliance with our requirements under the Trade Promotion Act," he said. Negotiators for Singapore noted the agreement puts the city-state on equal footing with a short list of free trade partners with the U.S., including Mexico, Canada, Israel and Jordan. Singapore said the trade pact will create new jobs and attract more foreign investment. The United States said the agreement brings major advances on intellectual property protection, legal and financial services and labor rights. Even Singapore's long-standing ban on importing chewing gum was addressed.

Singapore, Southeast Asia's foremost advocate of free trade agreements, has successfully completed them with Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the European Trade Association.