SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will make an official visit to Vienna on Wednesday (Oct 17) before flying to Brussels to attend the biennial Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit and sign a landmark trade deal between Singapore and the European Union (EU).
Mr Lee's visit to the Austrian capital is at the invitation of Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a statement from the Prime Minister's Office said. This follows Mr Kurz's three-day official visit to Singapore in August.
In Vienna, Mr Lee will meet and be hosted to lunch by Mr Kurz, after which both leaders will witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Cooperation in the Area of Digitalisation and Information and Communications Technology.
This MOU covers the exchange of information and best practices in several areas, including digitalisation strategies, e-commerce and digital trade, as well as emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.
Later in the day, Mr Lee will attend a dinner with Austrian business leaders.
After Vienna, the prime minister will travel to Brussels to attend the 12th ASEM Summit from Thursday to Friday.
With an aim to strengthen links between Asia and Europe, the biennial summit will see leaders of 51 European and Asian countries discuss a wide range of global issues, such as trade and investment, climate change and security challenges.
When in Brussels, Mr Lee will also attend a leaders' meeting between the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Singapore is the ASEAN chair this year and the coordinator for ASEAN-EU dialogue relations.
On the sidelines of the ASEM summit, Mr Lee will sign the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) with European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
Together, they will also witness the signing of the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement (EUSIPA) and the EU-Singapore Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (ESPCA). The signings are set to take place on Friday.
The EU is Singapore’s biggest foreign investor, as well as the third largest trading partner at S$98.4 billion in 2017. Singapore is the EU’s largest trading partner in ASEAN.
Negotiations for the EUSFTA – which aims to remove import duties and taxes, improve protection and market access for services providers, investors and firms, among other things – were concluded in 2014. However, ratification was delayed when the European Commission decided to ask the court in 2015 if the EU had the exclusive competence to sign and conclude the EUSFTA.
Given that it is the first concluded trade deal between the EU and an ASEAN country, the EUSFTA has been touted as “the stepping stone” to a wider EU-ASEAN trade and investment agreement.
On this three-day trip, Mr Lee will be accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Communications and Information Minister and Minister-in-charge of trade relations S Iswaran, as well as other government officials.
During his absence, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong will be acting Prime Minister on Oct 17 and 18. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean will assume that role from Oct 19 to 20.