Singapore, China ink deals on trade, Belt and Road projects

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on April 29, 2019.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on April 29, 2019. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

BEIJING - Singapore and China signed five agreements on Monday (April 29), drawing closer in their collaboration on trade, law enforcement and projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The deals were inked after Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. Earlier, Mr Lee also met President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People.

Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) sealed two new partnerships. In one, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Shanghai mayor Ying Yong agreed to set up a ministerial-level Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council.

Through this platform, both sides will cooperate in six areas: the BRI, financial services cooperation, technology and innovation, ease of doing business, urban governance, and people-to-people exchanges.

Incoming Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Mr Ying will co-chair the council, while Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong and Shanghai's vice-mayor Xu Kunlin will be deputy co-chairs.

Enterprise Singapore and Shanghai's Foreign Affairs Office will be the council secretariats.

The first meeting is on May 24 in Shanghai. The council is Shanghai's first comprehensive institutionalised platform with a foreign country, says a statement from MTI.

Mr Chan also signed a memorandum of understanding with Mr Zhang Yong, the vice-chair of China's state planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, on an implementation framework for third-party market cooperation.

The agreement takes further an earlier MOU signed in April last year and now identifies logistics, e-commerce, infrastructure and professional services such as financial and legal services, as areas for collaboration in third-party markets under the BRI.

"As China enters its next phase of economic transformation, these MOUs will strengthen Singapore's participation in China's new growth strategies to mutual benefit. The newly established Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council will help to anchor Singapore's engagements of China's key financial and business hub, and tap into the economic integration of the Yangtze River Delta," said Mr Chan in a statement.

The agreement will also bolster Singapore's role as a launchpad into the South-east Asian markets for Chinese companies looking for opportunities along the Belt and Road, he added.

According to MTI figures, trade between Singapore and Shanghai hit US$13.5 billion (S$18.3 billion) last year, accounting for nearly 14 per cent of Singapore's trade with China.

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As of the end of last year, Singapore had over 4,800 projects in Shanghai, amounting to US$15.2 billion worth of cumulative actual investments.

Singapore was the largest foreign investment destination for China along the Belt and Road last year, capturing close to 23 per cent of the total investment outflow from China to Belt and Road countries.

Singapore and China have collaborated in third-party markets in sectors from infrastructure, financing to professional services.

For instance, DBS Bank and the Bank of China have jointly financed a greenfield alumina refinery in Indonesia.

Singapore Customs also signed two agreements with its Chinese counterpart on closer collaboration in tackling customs offences and the setting up of a data exchange system.

In the first agreement, both sides will share findings collected from new customs enforcement equipment and techniques.

The second MOU spells out the implementation of an electronic data exchange system that was agreed on under the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement upgrade signed last November.

This system will allow for faster transfer of information for trade and eliminates the need for companies to submit hard-copy certificates of origin. It will kick in on July 1.

Singapore-based infrastructure consultancy Surbana Jurong and China's state-owned Silk Road Fund also inked a co-investment deal. Under this agreement, the two sides will set up a US$500 million infrastructure co-investment platform that will fund infrastructure projects in South-east Asia.

Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

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