Although the United States’ recent free trade agreement with Singapore has not drastically changed Georgia small businesses’ opportunities there, its intellectual property provisions have further opened the doors to franchising and consumer markets in neighboring Asian countries, George Ruffner told GlobalAtlanta.

Mr. Ruffner, counselor for commercial affairs at the U.S. Commercial Service’s Singapore office, was in Atlanta last week to meet with local companies interested in exporting to or setting up operations in Singapore.

Singapore levied low or no duties on most U.S. imports even before the free trade agreement went into effect on Jan. 1. But since then, more U.S. firms, including several Georgia -based ones, have begun to take advantage of Singapore’s strong protection of intellectual property provided by the agreement, Mr. Ruffner said.

“This IP protection is the strongest you’ll find outside of the U.S.,” he said of the free trade agreement that he deemed the “gold standard” for all future trade agreements in Asia.

Georgia companies are setting up franchises in Singapore with satellite branches in Australia, Taiwan and Thailand, Mr. Ruffner noted. They also use Singapore as a “trade gateway” to enter “more challenging markets” in China, Indonesia, Japan, Malayasia and other countries in the region, he added.

Opportunities in Singapore in biotechnology, cosmetics, environmental equipment and petrochemicals are growing rapidly since the free trade agreement, he said.

Georgia companies exported $261 million in goods and services to Singapore in 2003, and Mr. Ruffner expected that figure to increase significantly this year.

“The advantage of Singapore is the ease of doing business in English, with no duties, with IP protection, with U.S.-style laws and with a country that really wants U.S. products and partners,” he said.

Mr. Ruffner and his staff are available to assist Georgia companies in finding business partners in Singapore for all products except agriculture. They also facilitate participation in the many trade shows taking place in Singapore, including the upcoming regional communications expo, CommunicAsia, June 15-18.

Visit for a calendar of upcoming exhibitions. Contact Mr. Ruffner at Contact Robert Leach in Atlanta’s U.S. Export Assistance Center at (404) 657-1962 or for more information.