Singapore and Australia to explore new areas of collaboration

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Istana yesterday. Mr Morrison is on his first overseas trip after winning the Australian federal election last month. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Istana yesterday. Mr Morrison is on his first overseas trip after winning the Australian federal election last month. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

These include cyber and food security, digital economy such as AI, digital IDs, e-payments

Singapore and Australia are exploring new areas of collaboration such as cyber security, food security and the digital economy.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that while discussions on the digital economy are at an early stage, there is scope for the countries to deepen cooperation, particularly in areas such as e-invoicing, digital identities (IDs), e-payments and artificial intelligence (AI).

PM Lee cited this as an example of how Singapore and Australia are planning to take their partnership further, after a meeting with his counterpart Scott Morrison at the Istana yesterday.

Mr Morrison is on his first overseas trip after winning the Australian federal election last month.

Speaking at a joint news conference following their meeting, PM Lee congratulated the Australian leader on his win and said he was happy Mr Morrison made Singapore the first country in Asia to visit.

PM Lee also gave updates on several bilateral initiatives under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), which the countries established in 2015 to deepen cooperation in trade, defence and people-to-people ties, among other areas.

Bilateral trade grew by 25 per cent year on year in 2018, and PM Lee hopes it will continue to grow, with the upgraded free trade agreement that went into force in 2017.

Tourism has picked up substantially, with more than 1.1 million Australian residents visiting the Republic last year and about 400,000 Singaporeans travelling the other way.

 
 
 

On defence cooperation, PM Lee said both countries are expected to sign a treaty this year to finalise an arrangement to jointly develop military training areas in Queensland.

He also welcomed Australia's move to increase the Work Holiday Visa Programme spaces for Singaporeans from 500 to 2,500. It takes effect from July 1.

Singapore is also keen to conclude an Open Skies Agreement and update the 1969 Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, which both countries had agreed to do by 2022 under the CSP.

PM Lee said he raised these topics with Mr Morrison.

To explore collaboration in new areas such as the digital economy, both leaders have tasked their trade ministers to lead the efforts and report back to them by October, said PM Lee.

"This will pave the way for a new form of economic engagement and trade," he added.

Mr Morrison said: "The digital economy is going to be so critical to our productivity, for our economic growth, and the selection of working in this area, I think, is important, as it is a demonstration of the close working relationship our two countries have."

PM Lee hosted Mr Morrison to breakfast at the Istana before their meeting.

Australia is one of a few countries with whom Singapore meets at the leaders' level every year, PM Lee noted, adding that both countries are natural partners.

"We see eye to eye on many issues, including the importance of an open, rules-based and inclusive multilateral system," he said.

Noting that he was pleased to be in the Asean region and Singapore so soon after the election, Mr Morrison said his presence with Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne is a "strong signal about where we (Australia) see our focus from an external affairs point of view".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2019, with the headline 'Singapore and Australia to explore new areas of collaboration'. Print Edition | Subscribe