PM Lee on official visit to Austria ahead of Asem summit in Belgium

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrives in Austria today for an official visit, and will travel on to Belgium for a biennial summit of leaders from Asia and Europe.

He will also sign a landmark free trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and Singapore in Brussels, the capital of Belgium.

Austria is the current president of the EU Council, while Singapore is chairman of Asean this year, and both countries are keen to seize the momentum to strengthen cooperation between Europe and South-east Asia.

In Vienna, PM Lee will meet Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who will host him to lunch, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement yesterday.

The leaders will witness the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Area of Digitalisation and Information and Communications Technology.

The agreement covers the exchange of information and best practices in areas such as digitalisation, electronic commerce and emerging technologies.

Mr Kurz visited Singapore in August, and PM Lee noted then that both countries can do more to forge new areas of cooperation between each other and their regions. Mr Kurz, who took office last December, had said that both regions could work together to better coordinate their efforts in tackling climate change and improving cyber security.

PM Lee will also attend a dinner with Austrian business leaders. He will then go to Brussels to attend the 12th Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) Summit tomorrow and on Friday.

Asem is an inter-governmental dialogue platform that seeks to strengthen understanding and cooperation between the two continents, and has 31 European and 22 Asian members.

 

The theme of its leaders' meeting this year is Europe and Asia: Global Partners for Global Challenges, and it comes as countries on both continents are keen to deepen links at a time when multilateralism is under strain. Topics for discussion include climate change, and keeping trade free and open.

PM Lee will also attend an Asean-EU Leaders Meeting. Singapore is also the current country coordinator for Asean-EU dialogue relations.

On Friday, PM Lee will sign the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

The agreement is the first to be concluded between the EU and an Asean country and is seen as a pathfinder towards an eventual Asean-EU free trade agreement.

Singapore and the EU enjoy robust trade relations: The EU is Singapore's third-largest trading partner, with trade valued at $98.4 billion last year - 10 per cent of Singapore's trade with the world.

The Republic is the EU's largest trading partner in Asean, and the EU is the Republic's largest foreign investor, with more than 14,000 companies from the grouping in Singapore.

PM Lee, Mr Tusk and Mr Juncker will also witness the signing of the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement and the EU-Singapore Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

PM Lee will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations and Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran.

During PM Lee's absence, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong will be Acting Prime Minister today and tomorrow, and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean will be Acting Prime Minister on Friday and Saturday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2018, with the headline 'PM Lee on official visit to Austria ahead of Asem summit in Belgium'. Print Edition | Subscribe