SINGAPORE: Singapore and China will conclude a substantive upgrade of their free trade agreement, which first came into effect in 2009, by the end of this year, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Thursday (Sep 20).
Several rounds of negotiations over the upgrade have taken place since the two countries agreed to a review of the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (CSFTA) during President Xi Jinping’s State Visit to Singapore in November 2015.
The upgraded CSFTA is expected to, among other things, provide Singapore businesses with enhanced trade facilitation and greater investment protection in China.
“We will conclude the CSFTA by the end of this year, and we hope to sign it when Premier Li Keqiang comes to visit Singapore (in November),” said Mr Teo on the sidelines of the 14th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting on Thursday.
The JCBC is the top-level forum for steering bilateral relations between Singapore and China, and it has been held almost every year since it was established in 2004, with both countries taking turns to host the event.
“SUCCESSFUL AND PRODUCTIVE JCBC”
Playing host this year, Mr Teo, who is Singapore's JCBC co-chair, welcomed his new counterpart, Vice Premier Han Zheng. Mr Han assumed the post in April, taking over from former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.
Mr Teo said he "struck it off very well" with Mr Han, and that they had a "successful and productive JCBC".
"We've agreed on many things we want to do together for the future. For the three G-to-G projects - Suzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing - we're making good progress," he said.
"Most importantly, we're also keeping up with the times. So for Tianjin and Suzhou, apart from developing the projects themselves further, we're also talking about how we can take the experience gained into third countries."
BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE ON THE AGENDA
Besides the CSFTA, the two leaders also discussed bilateral projects and trade and financial cooperation. This included the Belt and Road Initiative – China’s ambitious, multi-billion-dollar infrastructure plan – which was included on the meeting agenda for the first time.
"We refer to the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative as an important node in the Belt and Road Initiative … We are currently looking at how we can engage local communities and enterprises in development and cooperation along the route," said Mr Han.
According to a statement from Singapore’s Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the two leaders welcomed more mutually beneficial cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, including in “infrastructural connectivity, financial connectivity, third country cooperation and training, and in professional and legal and judicial services, covering cooperation in mediation, arbitration and dispute resolution”.
The PMO statement also noted the commencement of negotiations on a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, which is aimed at strengthening bilateral legal cooperation and boost legal protection along the Belt and Road.
SEVERAL AGREEMENTS INKED
At the same time, seven memorandums of understanding were signed. The agreements include promoting the replication of the Tianjin Eco-City's development experience in other Chinese cities; training senior officials from Chongqing through courses and study visits; and establishing an International Intellectual Property Innovation Service Centre in the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City.
Outside of the JCBC, Mr Han was hosted to dinner and lunch by Mr Teo and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
He also toured the Pasir Panjang Port, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Asian Civilisations Museum and Gardens by the Bay.
Mr Han will call on President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Sep 21) before concluding his visit to Singapore.