SINGAPORE: The European Union and Singapore have committed to work together towards the ratification of a bilateral trade and investment deal by the end of this year, and its implementation soon after.
This came out of a meeting on Friday (Mar 2) between Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang and visitng EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom.
"This is an important step towards closer relations with the EU, which is our third largest trading partner and largest investor in Singapore," said Mr Lim. "It also reinforces EU’s economic engagement in the ASEAN region."
Welcoming the commitment, Ms Malmstrom said: “Together with the EU-Singapore Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, this trade and investment agreement will confirm our strong engagement with Singapore and will open up a new dimension in our ties with Singapore and ASEAN.”
Negotiations on the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement were concluded in October 2014. When concluded, it will be the first trade deal that will be implemented between the EU and an ASEAN member state.
The agreement with Singapore is expected to be sent in April 2018 to the Council and thereafter to the European Parliament for approval. The EU’s top court had ruled last May that for the FTA to fully come into force, it needs approval from the 38 national and sub-national parliaments of the 28 member states in the regional bloc.
Ms Malmstrom is in Singapore for the annual ASEAN Economic Ministers-EU Trade Commissioner Consultations.
The EU and 10-member ASEAN have been discussing a free trade deal for years, first launching talks in 2007 but abandoning them two years later, with the EU opting instead to conduct bilateral negotiations with individual states.
On Friday, Mr Lim said that the time is right for both blocs to pursue greater region-to-region integration.
He added that he looks forward to "constructive engagement" to help pave the way towards the eventual resumption of negotiations for an ASEAN-EU FTA.
Discussions to lay out a framework for a future ASEAN-EU FTA began at the last consultation session in 2017. Mr Lim also noted that in its 2017 survey, the EU-ASEAN Business Council found increasing and overwhelming support for the EU to pursue a region-to-region FTA with ASEAN.
On her part, Ms Malmstrom said that the EU and ASEAN can demonstrate the importance of preserving the multilateral trading system based on rules and institution, in the face of growing US protectionism under President Donald Trump.
Mr Trump had said on Thursday that he would impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminium to protect US producers.
"We saw last year and we see today that openness when it comes to trade can no longer be taken for granted, and so it’s even more important to show leadership in building bridges between nations, and EU and ASEAN can do just that," she said.
"We can demonstrate the importance of close business relations for building peace and prosperity among our people and countries."
Ms Malmstrom also reaffirmed the strong political and commercial ties between the EU and its partners in Southeast Asia.
She said these ties existed for centuries and have grown today into one of the most important exchanges of goods, services and investment in the world.