Singapore open to FTA applying to UK post-Brexit

BRUSSELS • Singapore is open to having the benefits under its free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union apply to the United Kingdom in a separate agreement after Brexit, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"We are prepared to transfer it over. If the UK were in the EU, it would apply to you straight away," he told BBC Radio 4 in an interview. "If you are not and you do not mind, it continues to apply to you from Singapore's point of view. We are happy to have it apply to us, between us and you," he added.

Arrangements for Britain's departure from the EU had dominated the European Council meeting of the continent's leaders this week, with no consensus on key issues including a transition period after Britain's departure next March.

The subject also featured in PM Lee's meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday.

Asked by BBC how the FTA would be ported over, PM Lee said at first there could be a short-form agreement "to continue to do with Britain what we have agreed to do with the EU as if you were still inside it". "And then we have time to work some better long-term arrangements over time," he added.

The EU-Singapore FTA includes Britain as long as it is in the group, and possibly during a transition.

Asked about Brexit, he said: "It is not for us to say. These are trade-offs which the British voters and British government have to make."

He added: "From the economic point of view, it is hard to make the argument that you will be in a superior position outside the EU than in. But I fully understand you have other considerations which may outweigh the economic one."

As for the UK looking to countries like Singapore and forging new ties, PM Lee said: "We are on the other side of the world... So I do not know that it is possible to model Britain on the same basis as Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2018, with the headline 'S'pore open to FTA applying to UK post-Brexit'. Print Edition | Subscribe