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King Abdullah and Goh urge closer Asia-Middle East business ties

Political reforms pave way for trade expansion between regions

Jordan's King Abdullah II and former Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong called Wednesday for closer ties between Asia and the Middle East, and urged their business sectors to take the lead.

King Abdullah, speaking at a business seminar on the first day of a two-day working visit to the city-state, said many countries in the Middle East were implementing reforms to help expand trade links with other regions.

"Reform has many aspects. It obviously includes political reforms to give citizens a stake in progress," he told business executives from the two regions.

"There must be transparent, accountable institutions. We are serious about combating corruption, which is an enemy of public confidence and drains a nation's resources, and we are strengthening the economic infrastructure for global growth and presence." Goh, who has pushed for closer Asia-Middle East ties since stepping down in August, said Arab governments and businesses had started to look more closely at Asia following the fallout from the September 11, 2001, terrorist strikes in the United States.

For their part, Asian businesses were also looking for other growth areas apart from their neighbors China and India, and the Middle East offered opportunities, said Goh, who is now a senior minister in the Cabinet.

Abdullah and Goh said that while political leaders are laying the foundation for closer ties, the private sector will be the driving force for those relations.

"At the end of the day, it is you, the private-sector leaders from our regions, who will drive the engine. Your meetings today can fuel that dialogue," Abdullah said.

"Positive change in the Arab world must be homegrown, just as it has been in Asia, but we know that we don't stand alone. Dialogue and cooperation with other regions is essential - especially with, and within, the private sector."

Trade between Singapore and the Middle East was 32.2 billion Singapore dollars ($20 billion) last year.

While in Singapore, Abdullah will attend the World Economic Forum Asian Roundtable that starts on Thursday. He will also meet Singapore President S. R. Nathan and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Amman,05 02 2005
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The Daily Star
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