UK-Singapore free trade deal enters into force today

Traditional Cantonese prawn dumplings called har gow will be one of the many Singapore products to find greater market access in Britain when the United Kingdom-Singapore Free Trade Agreement comes into force today.

The deal was signed on Dec 10 last year by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and British Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss. It took effect via provisional application on Jan 1.

Mr Chan said yesterday: "The agreement... signals the strong commitment of the UK and Singapore to ensure continuity and certainty in trading arrangements between both countries. It will deepen the strong economic relations both countries share."

It also marks the first free trade agreement between Britain and an Asean country, and sends a strong signal of Britain's commitment to deepen its economic engagement with the region, Mr Chan said.

"We hope that companies will utilise this (agreement) and enjoy its benefits," he added.

Under the deal, Singapore and British firms will enjoy the same benefits they got under the European Union-Singapore free trade deal, including tariff elimination for goods trade, increased access to their respective services and government procurement markets, as well as reduction of non-tariff barriers.

The trade agreement will help Singapore and Britain further strengthen their business hub status in their respective regions and boost the latter's engagement in South-east Asia.

Britain has already taken steps to close ranks with Asia's regional blocs following its successful bid to become an Asean Dialogue Partner and has shown keen interest in joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The new trade deal covers more than £17 billion (S$31.2 billion) of current bilateral trade in goods and services between Singapore and Britain. Its immediate benefits include elimination of 84 per cent of all tariff lines for Singapore exports to Britain, with virtually all remaining tariffs eliminated by November 2024 - the same timeline under the EU deal.

But the enhanced market access in Britain for Asian food products made in Singapore, such as har gow and sambal ikan bilis (spicy crispy anchovies), is separate from the quota provided for under the EU agreement. These processed food products will be able to enter Britain tariff-free by up to a combined quota of 350 tonnes annually.

The two countries have also agreed to assess the modules of a UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement, with a view to launching negotiations this year.

An investment protection agreement is also planned. Singapore and Britain are committed to commence talks on the deal within two years and conclude negotiations within four years.

The agreement will provide businesses and investors with the certainty of investment protection.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2021, with the headline 'UK-Singapore free trade deal enters into force today'. Subscribe