PM Lee thanks Dutch PM for support of EU-Singapore FTA

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking during a haze press briefing on 20 June 2013. Soon after arriving here on Sunday for the third Nuclear Security Summit, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong held a meeting with his counterpart from host country the N
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking during a haze press briefing on 20 June 2013. Soon after arriving here on Sunday for the third Nuclear Security Summit, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong held a meeting with his counterpart from host country the Netherlands, Mr Mark Rutte. -- ST FILE PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

THE HAGUE - Soon after arriving here on Sunday for the third Nuclear Security Summit, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong held a meeting with his counterpart from host country the Netherlands, Mr Mark Rutte.

Both leaders reaffirmed the warm bilateral relations that extend well before Singapore's independence and that have been undergirded by strong investment and trade.

It was fitting too that trade featured in their talks as Mr Lee thanked the Dutch PM for supporting the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement which is in its final stages of ratification.

Under the EU-Singapore trade pact initialled last September, tariffs for goods will be eliminated across the huge trading bloc and should be in force later this year or by early next year.

The lifting of such duties and taxes will be especially beneficial not just for consumer goods but also big-ticket Singapore exports to the European Union.

Firms that refine oil or produce oil-related products in Singapore stand to gain, as long as they meet rules of origin conditions. Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil are big refiners in Singapore.

During their talks, both leaders updated each other on the developments in their respective regions, with Mr Lee reporting on Southeast Asia's news and Mr Rutte sharing about Europe's economic recovery, said Mr Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin.

The PM also invited Mr Rutte, who was elected to office in 2010, to visit Singapore. The Netherlands is the second largest investor from the EU, after Britain, with more than $50 billion in assets and more than 1,000 firms in Singapore.

On Sunday, heavy police presence and long lines for security clearance did not dampen Dutch excitement as world leaders began descending on the capital for the summit.

In the case of Chinese premier Xi Jinping, fighter jets escorted his plane as he landed here over the weekend for the start of a bilateral visit and, later, a charm offensive across Europe to France, Germany and Belgium.

United States President Barack Obama, who initiated the summit in 2009, is due here on Monday.

Some 53 countries and four international organisations are taking part in the summit. Apart from adopting a communique charting future plans, countries are expected to make offerings of what are called "gift baskets" or commitments to do more to curb nuclear proliferation and the spread of vulnerable materials.

This is the third summit, after the first two meetings in Washington in 2010 and in Seoul in 2012.