Iswaran calls for support to bolster EU-S'pore FTA

Trade deal will benefit SMEs especially, says minister to Members of European Parliament

BRUSSELS • Promoting awareness of the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement will help the deal reach its full potential, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), said Mr S. Iswaran yesterday.

The Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations appealed to Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and the local business community for support in bolstering the trade deal.

Beyond official talks, it is "equally important that the parliamentarians understand and support the initiative", he said in Belgium, where he met about a dozen MEPs from countries such as Ireland, Malta, Portugal and Britain at a reception for the Friends of Singapore group in the European Parliament.

The trade agreement is an "inclusive" one that creates opportunities for firms, large and small, by lowering transaction costs and reducing border-related issues, he added.

Mr Iswaran said the deal is seen as a pathway to a future EU-Asean trade pact, which would benefit Europe, given the demands from Asean's rising middle class for higher-quality goods and services, from education to healthcare to consumer products.

The minister noted at Monday's official launch of the European Union-Singapore Business Roundtable that large firms "find their own way around the world", but smaller ones need help to navigate new markets.

Mr Iswaran met Scottish Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation Ivan McKee at the roundtable, which was held at Scotland House, the Scottish government's Brussels base.

Mr McKee noted the long history of ties between both countries, adding that Singapore is the third-largest export market for Scotch whisky.

Europe's spirit exports to Singapore have grown 90 per cent over the past decade, said Mr Ulrich Adam, director general of spiritsEUROPE, the industry body.

As a major distribution hub in Asia, Singapore is the second-largest export market for European spirits after the United States.

The trade deal will aid the industry with its high levels of protection for geographical indications, as well as providing a platform for more regulatory cooperation, he added.

Beyond trade, Singapore and Europe could look at cooperation on digital economy initiatives, Mr Iswaran suggested.

On Monday, he appealed to business communities to raise issues of cross-border digital agreements with their respective governments. These could include rules on cross-border e-payments.

He expanded on the theme yesterday, pointing to Singapore's digital partnership efforts with countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Chile, and added: "We hope that with the EU too, we can advance that conversation."

Mr Pedro Silva Pereira, chairman of the Friends of Singapore group, told the media that the digital economy is becoming more important in the European Parliament, alongside climate change and energy transition.

"These are themes for the present and the future," he said.

Apart from seeing the trade deal through its final ratification, the Friends of Singapore group will discuss its implementation, including its sustainable development commitments, he added.

Beyond trade, sustainable development and climate change are "excellent areas for further cooperation", said Mr Pereira.

"I see Singapore as an ally regarding climate change," he noted, recalling how on a trip to the Republic, he was impressed by Singapore's concern for the situation in the Arctic.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2019, with the headline 'Iswaran calls for support to bolster EU-S'pore FTA'. Print Edition | Subscribe