Crown Prince to attend UN General Assembly
By Sonia K

His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, and Her Royal Highness Paduka Seri Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Sarah yesterday evening arrived in New York to attend the 63rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Their Royal Highnesses arrived at the John F Kennedy Airport and were greeted by Latif Tuah, the permanent-designate of Brunei Darussalam to the United Nations in New York.

Accompanying the Crown Prince and Her Royal Highness are His Royal Highness Prince 'Abdul Muntaqim and Prince Abdul Qawi.

As world leaders are gathering in New York city for the annual debate of the General Assembly, the coming week is expected to attract a great deal of attention as the heads of UN member states take turns addressing the assembly at the UN Headquarters.

Meanwhile, the United States has agreed to join Singapore, New Zealand, Chile and Brunei in a free trade agreement, which could set the pace for a broader Asia-Pacific free trade area, officials said.

US Trade Representative Susan Schwab is expected to announce Washington's decision to participate in the "Comprehensive Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement" at a meeting overnight with ministers from the four countries on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the officials said.

"I can confirm that the US will join," a US administration official told AFP.

The agreement, the first trade pact involving a group of Pacific Rim countries, was signed between Singapore, Chile and New Zealand in 2005 before Brunei joined it a year later.

It was commonly known as the "P4" group with a broad objective to tear down trade barriers among participants within a decade, officials said.

The US decision to join the agreement will give impetus to a long term initiative within the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to forge a Free Trade Agreement of the Asia Pacific, officials said.

Schwab will at the talks Monday announce the "launch of negotiations" for the United States to join the P4 agreement, one Asia-Pacific diplomat involved in the talks said.

Washington in March decided to hold talks with the P4 on freeing up just investment and financial services.

"The terms of the US accession to the broad agreement is to be discussed later among the five parties," the diplomat told AFP. "The investment and financial services talks will be folded into the larger agreement."

The P4 group has a "benchmark matched by few preferential trade agreements", New Zealand's trade minister Phil Goff said during a recent Washington visit.

New Zealand, which has concluded free trade agreements with Singapore, Thailand, Brunei and Chile, is the first OECD country to commence free trade negotiations with China.

The United States has numerous bilateral free trade agreements, including with Singapore and Chile but not with New Zealand or Brunei.

At the UN, the addresses will begin today and will include a speech by US President George Bush, which will be his eighth and final UN appearance as the leader of the United States.

According to the United Nations, the 63rd Session of the UN General Assembly will focus on key issues such as democratisation of the United Nations; financing for development to end hunger, poverty and lack of access to clean water and basic health services; climate change in a divided but ecologically interdependent world; achieving the goals of the United Nations Decade: "Water for Life" (2005-2015); implementation of the counter-terrorism strategy, with full respect for human rights and; human security as a part of international peace and security, including disarmament and nuclear control.

Besides that, the assembly will continue to consider issues relating to system-wide coherence, sustainable development and HIV/AIDS. - Borneo Bulletin (23rd Sept 2008)