SINGAPORE: The Republic is set to have "unprecedented" access to Australia and vice versa, after both countries concluded discussions on a landmark agreement called a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP).
The partnership was first announced last year by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then-Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Singapore's long-standing ties with Australia goes back to World War II, when Australian servicemen helped defend the Republic. Since then, that relationship has expanded significantly to include areas such as trade and people-to-people ties.
With the conclusion of the CSP, ties are about to get an even bigger upgrade. "It sets our economic, our defence, our people-to-people ties, on a completely new trajectory for the next generation,” said Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
Dr Balakrishnan added that as a "long-time friend" and "strategic partner", Singapore's CSP with Australia started from a "very high base".
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also lauded the "landmark agreement". "The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) is an ambitious package covering many aspects of our relationship. We will move quickly to implement the various measures, although some will take time to bear fruit," he said.
In a news conference on Friday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the agreement is a "massive upgrading" of its relation with Singapore and was agreed formally between him and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
"Under our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, our aim is to elevate our relationship to a level similar to the one we enjoy with New Zealand. It will see our two nations join forces in a new innovation drive, attracting investment and backing new technology."
FOUR ASPECTS COVERED IN PARTNERSHIP
The CSP covers four major pillars. The first is in the area of trade and economics, which stems from a review of both countries' original Free Trade Agreement, signed in 2003. Singapore is already Australia's fifth-largest trading partner, while Australia is Singapore's 12th.
Updated regulations mean businesses and investors will have an easier time pursuing opportunities in either country. Both sides will also seek to recognise each other's professional qualifications, with priority given for engineers and accountants.
The second pillar involves innovation and science. Collaboration among research and scientific agencies such as A*STAR, the National Research Foundation and Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is poised to increase, with matching funding totalling about S$50 million, provided by both countries.
Australian high-tech startups will also be given a home in Singapore, spurring greater cooperation with local firms. This would boost Singapore's reputation as a hub for innovation and the creative industries.
Both countries' long-standing defence relations will also be expanded in the CSP. Joint exercises will be scaled up, while new training areas are set be explored. The sharing of information and intelligence will be enhanced, in light of the global terror threat.
There are also plans to enhance exchanges between military personnel of both sides, as well as begin exchanges among civilian personnel.
Lastly, the CSP will improve people-to-people ties. This covers travel, with Singaporeans set to be eligible for multi-year visas, which currently expire after a year.
In his news conference, Mr Turnbull said the "upgrading of our agreement with Singapore will make it much easier for thousands of Australians to live and work" there.
There will also be greater recognition for Australian educational qualifications in the fields of law, medicine and allied health. In addition, there will be more support for collaboration among arts and culture groups from both countries.
The Singapore Government has pledged funds that could go up to S$5 million over five years, to help local artists, arts groups and performers profile their works in Australia.
A "WIN-WIN" PARTNERSHIP
Dr Balakrishnan called the CSP, which was signed last year, a win-win. "This has been very ambitious, it hasn't been an easy 12 months, but this has been a worthwhile agreement to conclude," he said.
In response to whether the upcoming elections in Australia will have an impact on the agreement, the Minister said: "We know the Australians are good for their word, and they have always complied with agreements they have signed. The second reason is that if you look at the relationship with Australia, there is broad bipartisan support, in the Australian body politic, for the importance and the relevance of the Singapore relationship."
With the CSP agreement in place, Singapore is now eyeing the next frontier. For years, Singapore has pursued an open skies agreement with Australia, without success. Such a move would allow both sides' national carriers to operate more freely in either country.
Beyond meeting demand for such services, Dr Balakrishnan said this would also "catalyse opportunities".