Singapore open to having EU-S'pore free trade deal benefits apply to UK after Brexit: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Arrangements for Britain's departure from the EU dominated the European Council meeting among the continent's leaders this week.
Arrangements for Britain's departure from the EU dominated the European Council meeting among the continent's leaders this week.PHOTO: AFP
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the EU-Singapore FTA includes Britain as long as it is in the grouping.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the EU-Singapore FTA includes Britain as long as it is in the grouping.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS - Singapore is open to having the benefits of the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) apply to Britain in a separate deal after Brexit, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Oct 19).

"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 Brussels.

"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 in the interview with the station's Today programme presenter Martha Kearney.

Singapore is signing the landmark FTA with the EU later on Friday. It will further liberalise access to each other's markets and protect intellectual property rights, among other factors.

"It is an ambitious trade deal; it is a high quality arrangement, and it is one which will fly the flag and encourage others, I hope, to do the same," Mr Lee said.

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

The subject also featured in Mr Lee's meeting with British PM Theresa May on Thursday evening, ahead of the start of the Asia-Europe Meeting summit.

 
 

Asked how the FTA would be ported over to a deal with Britain, Mr Lee said in the first instance there could be a short-form agreement, "basically 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.

 

Mr Lee noted that the EU-Singapore FTA includes Britain as long as it is in the grouping.

Under the deal, commitments and obligations for both sides include: free access to each other's markets, opportunities for Singapore companies to bid for jobs with European government entities, including at city or local level, and protection for geographical indications or products with specific origins.

Mr Lee was also asked about his thoughts on Brexit.

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

"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 whether Britain would be stronger when it can look to the rest of the world and forge new economic relationships, Mr Lee noted that Britain was in that position before it joined the precursor to the EU in 1973, and held a referendum to decide to remain in 1975.

Singapore is in a very different position as it is not on Europe's doorstep. "We have very good relations with the EU. We have very deep and considerable trade," he said.

"But we are on the other side of the world in Asia. We also have trade with our region, with South-east Asia, with China, with the United States. So I do not know that it is possible to model Britain on the same basis as Singapore."