SINGAPORE: The European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) is on track to come into force by 2019, said Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S Iswaran in a wrap-up interview with reporters in Paris, France, on Thursday (May 24).
The minister was in the city on a four-day visit to deepen innovation and research ties as part of the France-Singapore Year of Innovation 2018.
The EU is Singapore’s biggest investor and third largest trading partner. In 2017, bilateral trade grew to US$98.4 billion, making up slightly more than 10 per cent of Singapore’s total trade. Conversely, Singapore is EU’s largest trading partner in the ASEAN region.
Negotiations for the agreement were concluded in October 2014, and Mr Iswaran said progress is underway in the EU to ratify it, and there is a desire to see it concluded early.
“Just this week, the Council of Ministers met and they’ve put out a record of the meeting which shows that the Council has agreed that the work on EUSFTA should be intensified in order for it to be ratified by 2019,” said Mr Iswaran.
“Beyond the economic argument, the broader strategic point is we think the EUSFTA is important because by ratifying it, it's another signal to the world that like-minded countries are building closer economic ties, especially in the backdrop of the anti-globalisation rhetoric that we hear,” he added.
BUILDING STRONGER INNOVATION LINKS WITH FRANCE
During his trip, Mr Iswaran also attended innovation conference Viva Technology, where he met French President Emmanuel Macron and reaffirmed bilateral ties. The minister said there is significant scope for cooperation between both countries.
“France is eager for its innovation and start-up ecosystem to be connected with the world. In particular, they have high regard for Singapore's innovation and startup ecosystem,” said Mr Iswaran.
“In fact, President Macron mentioned this in his keynote address this morning - Singapore being one of the places in the world where there is a thriving innovation ecosystem which France is keen to work with.”
Singapore and France have a rich history of R&D cooperation in various fields like biomedical sciences, aerospace and consumer care business.
For example, Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) has research collaborations with the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)and several French universities in the areas of smart cities and digital health.
Companies like L’Oreal, Servier and Airbus have also forged multiple industry collaborations with several A*STAR research institutes.
At the Vivatech event, Mr Iswaran also took part in a dialogue with his counterpart, French Minister for Higher Education, Research and Innovation Frederique Vidal, where they encouraged businesses to leverage support infrastructures in both countries to expand into Asia and Europe.
Mr Iswaran also delivered a keynote address at a session to promote Singapore’s role as a deep tech hub in Asia.
In the wrap-up interview, Mr Iswaran also responded to questions about the direction of Singapore’s fourth-generation leadership, following the Cabinet reshuffle just last month and given recent developments in the region.
Citing initiatives like the Future Economy Council and SkillsFuture, Mr Iswaran said there’s a need to do more cross-ministry work as issues that Singapore faces become more complex.
“We are in a more complex environment, where it is not easy to categorise particular issues to particular ministers. Those days are fast disappearing … I think this is where there are opportunities for more interactions and joint assessments. I think relying on each other's judgment to form a holistic assessment is going to be part of evolution,” said Mr Iswaran.