EU-Singapore trade pact an anchor for both economies amid Covid-19: President Halimah

The free trade agreement between the European Union and Singapore came into force in November 2019. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - The free trade agreement (FTA) between the European Union (EU) and Singapore, which came into force in November 2019, has served as an anchor for both economies amid the Covid-19 pandemic and protectionist sentiment worldwide, President Halimah Yacob said on Friday (March 5).

She pointed out that both sides had given a strong signal by undertaking some very substantive commitments in tariff elimination, on rules of origin and on market access with the landmark deal, the first between the EU and an Asean member state.

"It also signals a strong commitment to upholding free, fair global trade, as well as serves as a pathfinder for an EU-Asean agreement in the future," she said.

Madam Halimah, who was speaking at the Europe Business Summit organised by the European Chamber of Commerce Singapore at Fullerton Hotel, called on both sides to sign a digital economy agreement to complement the FTA, strengthen digital connectivity between the two economies, and develop new opportunities.

Such an agreement would enable them to tap new opportunities arising from the ballooning of Internet users in South-east Asia following the pandemic, said Madam Halimah, noting that Singapore has set aside $1 billion in its Budget this year to help businesses do so.

So far, Singapore has signed digital economy pacts with New Zealand and Chile, as well as Australia. The pacts facilitate digitalisation of trade processes, and make it cheaper and easier for Singapore companies to engage in cross-border business activities.

Mr Federico Donato, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, agreed with Madam Halimah, saying during a panel discussion later that such a digital economic agreement would be a "natural follow-up" to the FTA.

In her speech, the President noted the "strong economic relationship" between Singapore and the EU and said both continued to work closely on "a broad range of areas" despite the pandemic.

She singled out sustainability as one area.

"Singapore and the EU share the view that trade and sustainability are not at odds with each other. On the contrary, they mutually support each other," said Madam Halimah.

She noted that both economies recognise the need for trade to contribute positively to the fight against climate change, and had discussed ways to work towards a sustainable and resilient economy.

"Europe and Singapore are working in parallel, on the path towards a greener economy", she added, while noting the launch of the Singapore Green Plan 2030 last month.

The President also reassured the European business community in Singapore that the Republic would "continue to welcome talents with the right expertise to complement Singaporeans, help us build capabilities and add vibrancy to our economy".

But, at the same time, businesses must take the lead in identifying job disruptions and developing a transition plan for reskilling their workforce as more cross-border economic opportunities arise, she added.

EU Ambassador to Singapore Barbara Plinkert, who was present at the event, said the pandemic has highlighted the benefits of countries cooperating at a global level "to avoid a deeper economic recession or disruptions in trade flows and supply chains".

"As we embark on the path towards recovery, working together between the EU and Singapore is only natural as like-minded partners in making green, sustainable and digital recovery a priority for the future," she added.

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