Third review of landmark India-Singapore economic deal to focus on trade facilitation, e-commerce and customs

The third review was formally launched by Minister-in-Charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran and India's Minister of Commerce and Industry Suresh Prabhu, who met on Sept 1, 2018. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/S ISWARAN

SINGAPORE - India and Singapore are embarking on the third review of the landmark Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca), which focuses on trade facilitation, e-commerce and customs.

The move comes four months after both countries concluded the second review of the trade pact, which will come into force in the middle of September.

The third review was formally launched by Minister-in-Charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran and India's Minister of Commerce and Industry Suresh Prabhu, who met on Saturday morning (Sept 1).

"Ceca has opened up market access for Singapore companies in a variety of sectors including finance, organic chemicals, plastics, as well as electrical machinery and equipment," said Mr Iswaran.

"Our companies also benefit from Ceca's investment protection and dispute resolution provisions, and can do business in India with greater confidence."

Last year, bilateral trade between Singapore and India amounted to $25.2 billion, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry in a statement on Saturday.

India was Singapore's largest trading partner in South Asia, while Singapore was India's second-largest trading partner within the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).

The Ceca was signed in June 2005, and took effect in August that year. It fast-tracked Singapore banks in India's phased banking liberalisation programme, accorded special tax benefits to Singapore-based companies and included an agreement on investment promotion and protection.

It also included an agreement to eliminate or substantially reduce tariffs on three-quarters of Singapore exports to India over five years.

The trade pact was first reviewed in 2007 to see if trade and investments could develop even faster, with a second review following shortly after.

Mr Aylwin Tan, who is chief customer solutions officer at Ascendas-Singbridge, said that having Ceca in place gives investors "a lot of confidence".

The urban development and business space solutions provider has been investing in India for more than 20 years, and manages over 13 million square feet of assets across India.

"It is important to have continued clarity on implementation procedures for trade agreements, as well as how to strengthen the investment environment," Mr Tan said.

On Saturday morning, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing also spoke on the importance of establishing strong ties between India and Asean.

Total trade between Asean and India has increased by a quarter from US$58.4 billion in 2016 to US$73.5 billion last year, while foreign direct investmentfrom India rose from US$1.05 billion to US$1.8 billion in the same time period.

"Backed by growing regional consumption and infrastructure developments, both sides are well-positioned to tap on each other's economic fundamentals and the region's growth opportunities," said Mr Chan, who was at the Asean Economic Ministers (AEM)-India Consultations held at the Shangri-La Hotel on Saturday.

The review of Ceca comes as India's economy expanded at the fastest pace in nine quarters, as strong domestic consumption and robust manufacturing growth outweighed any global trade-war worries, Bloomberg said.

Gross domestic product grew 8.2 per cent in the three months ended June, from a year earlier, the Statistics Ministry said in a statement in New Delhi on Friday.

The economy is expected to expand more than 7.5 per cent in the fiscal year to March 2019, Subhash Chandra Garg, economic affairs secretary in the finance ministry, said in New Delhi, adding that growth was now on a steady track.

The numbers cement India's position as the world's fastest-growing major economy, outpacing China, where an intensifying trade conflict with the US has dimmed the outlook.

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