PARIS: The European Union (EU) and ASEAN have agreed to restart the process of establishing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between them, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (Jul 14).
And as the ASEAN coordinator for ASEAN-EU relations after this August, he said that Singapore hopes to establish a framework to identify areas with potential to work out deals.
Mr Lee was speaking to the media after attending France’s National Day Parade in Paris, where he was the guest of honour - the first Singaporean leader to receive the distinction.
On the Jul 14 every year, France holds a military parade in Paris to commemorate the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris in 1789, and the beginning of the French Revolution.
And every year, France invites a country to participate in its National Day Parade.
Last year, President Emmanuel Macron invited US President Donald Trump, who now wants to hold a similar parade in the United States.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was also invited this year, but he had to pull out due to natural disasters in his country.
In a symbolic gesture of strong bilateral ties, jets from the Singapore and French air forces soared over Paris in a combined flypast.
Troops from Singapore and Japan also marched alongside more than 4000 members of the French armed forces and other participants.
Speaking to the media after the parade, Mr Lee said the bilateral cooperation between Singapore and France is very good.
And he elaborated on the France-Singapore Road Map for Deepening Cooperation in Digital Innovation, Internet Governance and Cybersecurity which was issued on Friday.
“Their last presidential election they got hacked by some black operators and they had a very effective counter operation which neutralised and prevented it from interfering with their domestic political process,” said Mr Lee.
“We are also developing our own cybersecurity because we are talking about having a smart nation and having all our systems go online and in the cloud.
"You must have your defences up, otherwise you are naked, so it’s an area where we can both work together and the cybersecurity roadmap spells out how we can further this cooperation, and it reflects the intent on both sides to do a lot more together on this issue.”
Mr Lee also said that the EU and ASEAN have agreed to restart the process of establishing a free trade agreement between the two blocs.
The EU and ASEAN launched talks towards a pact in 2007 but abandoned the process two years later, with the EU opting instead to conduct bilateral negotiations with individual states.
“As coordinator we hope to be able to establish a framework to identify where are the areas where we have the potential to work out deals,” said Mr Lee.
“Working out the deals will probably take longer than the end of this year, almost certainly. But if we can identify what the shape of the deal can be like, where the major opportunities are, our trade-offs are, then I hope we will have better successes there.”
Turning to the wave of populism sweeping the world, and also the uncertainty over the US administration’s policies under President Donald Trump, Mr Lee said it means that Singapore will have to work with like-minded partners around the world who agree that the multilateral system is important, and that there is a need to work within an international framework of rules.
He added, “One of the things we hope for is that the European countries are able to manage their social and political tensions, so they do not end up with radical governments. And then they can play a role internationally. Otherwise, the governments may be likeminded with you but if they can't hold their own domestically, I think they will not be on a strong platform.”
With France playing in the finals of the World Cup on Sunday against Croatia, Mr Lee also said he had wished his host well.
France has deployed 110,000 members of the security forces across the country for the back-to-back celebrations of its National Day and a hoped-for victory in the World Cup final.