Singapore keen on open skies pact with EU

US President Barack Obama and PM Lee at the Nuclear Security Summit on Tuesday. Mr Lee said valuable steps had been taken to secure nuclear materials in the past four years. -- PHOTO: FACEBOOK PAGE OF LEE HSIEN LOONG
US President Barack Obama and PM Lee at the Nuclear Security Summit on Tuesday. Mr Lee said valuable steps had been taken to secure nuclear materials in the past four years. -- PHOTO: FACEBOOK PAGE OF LEE HSIEN LOONG
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrives at The World Forum in The Hague on March 24, 2014 on the first day of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit (NSS). Singapore is keen on an open skies agreement with the European Union to foster greater
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrives at The World Forum in The Hague on March 24, 2014 on the first day of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit (NSS). Singapore is keen on an open skies agreement with the European Union to foster greater connectivity and will canvass its member countries once the EU Parliament has undergone elections in May. -- PHOTO: AFP

PM says it will soon work on getting mandate from the EU to start talks

Singapore is keen on an open skies agreement with the European Union to foster greater connectivity and will canvass its member countries once the EU Parliament has undergone elections in May.

Disclosing the proposal yesterday at the start of his visit to Luxembourg, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it will work soon on getting a mandate from the EU side to start negotiations.

It may take years but such a pact will bring the two regions closer together, he added.

A Singapore-EU Comprehensive Air Traffic Agreement (CATA) can also pave the way for the EU-Asean CATA, on which both regions agreed in February to start negotiations.

The pact was a key idea PM Lee brought to the table during his talks with his Luxembourg counterpart, Mr Xavier Bettel.

It was his first meeting on a day-long visit to the small state nestled between Belgium, Germany and France.

The two leaders later told a press conference that they had excellent discussions and were keen to deepen ties.

Mr Lee noted that both countries cooperate well at international forums, such as the United Nations, the Forum of Small States, and Global Governance Group.

Like Singapore, Luxembourg is tiny with even fewer people - over half a million.

Bilateral trade is also robust, growing more than 60 per cent last year and helping to retain Luxembourg's status as Singapore's third largest European Union investor.

"Europe is starting to recover from several difficult years," said Mr Lee. "Asia is making good progress and countries are integrating more closely with one another.

"We should expand our cooperation, not just bilaterally but with our wider regions."

He thanked Mr Bettel for Luxembourg's support for the early ratification of the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Aside from removing tariffs for firms, it will give its financial institutions access to Singapore's financial services market.

Also, its corporate giants like the world's largest cargo airline Cargolux and the largest steel maker ArcelorMittal, both with a presence in Singapore, can tap more suppliers in the region and benefit.

But Mr Lee said the most important benefit of the FTA is that it shows Europe's "strategic commitment to stay open and engage Asia, and both countries want to work together to foster closer cooperation".

On the two air agreements on the table, he said it would open up more opportunities for tourism, business and cooperation.

Mr Bettel supported the idea but said it would take time.

The pacts have immense potential, given that half the world's traffic growth over the next two decades will be focused on Asia-Pacific, as it is projected to become the global leader in air traffic, with a market share of 38 per cent.

However, links between Europe and Asia have been slow to grow, lagging behind economic linkages.

Before leaving for London at day's end, Mr Lee called on the Grand Duke Henri at the palace. He also met former prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who is running for the presidency of the European Commission.

Mr Lee also invited Mr Bettel to Singapore.

The Premier, who was elected last December, said he looked forward to visiting. Underlining the close ties, he added that he was most pleased that "your visit is the first visit from Asia".

He said: "On the map we are so far away, but we have so much in common."

zuraidah@sph.com.sg