YEREVAN, ARMENIA - At first glance, Singapore and Armenia appear to be vastly different, but they also have many things in common, such as being small countries that aspire to serve as gateways to the regions they are located in, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Sept 29).
Both are also strong advocates of a new free trade agreement (FTA) between Singapore and the five-member Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which Armenia is a part of.
The deal will hopefully give impetus to closer ties between the EAEU and Singapore, and also "serve as a pathfinder for an FTA between the EAEU and Asean", said Mr Lee, who is on a four-day official visit to Armenia.
On Tuesday, Mr Lee and the EAEU leaders will witness the signing of the Framework and Non-Services & Investment Agreements, as well as the Armenia-Singapore Services & Investment Agreement, which form part of the EAEU-Singapore FTA (EAEUSFTA).
Mr Lee, who met Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Sunday, thanked his counterpart at a joint press conference for his leadership in realising this outcome and for hosting the signing ceremony.
Mr Lee said the EAEUSFTA agreement was concluded after seven rounds of formal negotiations that began two years ago - what he called "breakneck speed", as far as FTA negotiations go.
Besides Armenia, the EAEU comprises Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, and the economic bloc represents a market of around 183 million people, with a total gross domestic product of US$1.9 trillion (S$2.6 trillion).
The EAEU-Singapore FTA, which will create stronger ties and trade and investment links between Singapore and the EAEU, is the first comprehensive free trade agreement of the EAEU, and Mr Lee said Singapore is honoured to be the union's partner in this.
Discussing bilateral ties, Mr Lee said that Armenia is a like-minded and key partner for Singapore in the EAEU.
On the surface, both countries appear to be different, noted Mr Lee. Singapore and Armenia are separated by great geographical distance; one is an island nation while the other is land-locked, and both took different paths to independence.
"But we also have many things in common, as small countries that aspire to serve as gateways to our respective regions. And we both believe in free and open trade, we are both committed to the multilateral system, and we both subscribe to the rule of law internationally," Mr Lee added.
Mr Lee said he was delighted Singapore and Armenia will sign a bilateral Services & Investment Agreement on Tuesday - being the first of five agreements that Singapore hopes to conclude with each of the EAEU member states.
Mr Lee added that the FTA signing will boost the bilateral relationship and build on the five agreements signed during Mr Pashinyan's visit to Singapore in July. These are to cooperate in areas such as tourism, taxation, arts and culture, vocational training and plant exchange.
"I look forward to these agreements being implemented, so that our peoples and businesses can enjoy the tangible benefits," Mr Lee said.
Meanwhile, Mr Pashinyan said he was glad that the EAEU-Singapore FTA agreements will be signed during Armenia's presidency in the EAEU.
"We, as a country residing in the EAEU, have made a considerable effort for broadening the geography of the EAEU's foreign ties, and Singapore has been in the centre of our attention," said Mr Pashinyan.
"We hope that the creation of this important legal contractual framework will help especially to develop our countries' cooperation in (the) high tech and innovation (sectors)," he said.
Besides discussing the progress of the EAEU-Singapore FTA during their meeting at the Governmental Residence in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, the two leaders also talked about how to expand the bilateral relationship, such as through exchanges and study visits to learn from one another.