SINGAPORE (AP) - Singapore's deputy prime minister said the city-state may reach a free trade agreement with China in one to two years' time, a newspaper reported Thursday.
''We think one to two years could be a reasonable time(frame) to look at,'' Wong Kan Seng was quoted as saying in The Straits Times newspaper, adding that Beijing worked with a similar timeframe for its own free trade negotiations.
Wong was speaking to reporters on Wednesday after co-chairing a meeting with visiting Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi, the report said.
Singapore and China have held three rounds of meetings since starting free trade discussions last year. A fourth round will take place in September, it said.
The city-state is China's seventh-largest trading partner, while China is Singapore's third-largest partner. Bilateral trade hit US$40.85 billion (euro29.7 billion) last year, the report said.
China urged Singaporean businesses to seize opportunities that have opened up in the country, including in the services and energy conservation and environmental protection sectors, the paper said.
''Americans and Japanese have all shown keen interest ... I hope visionary business people in Singapore can move first and acquire an early advantage,'' Wu was quoted as saying.
The two countries signed five memoranda of understanding for cooperation in areas such as human resource development, health and environment, and water resources, the report said.
A Singapore-China free trade agreement is expected to spur an ongoing process by Southeast Asian nations to create a regional free trade area with China. Plans were set in 2002 for the free trade zone that will create a market of about 1.8 billion consumers and economic activity totaling more than US$2 trillion (euro1.6 trillion).
Southeast Asia is a key market for Chinese manufacturers, as well as a source for energy, rubber, minerals and other natural resources.