Sunday, 21 October 2018

European Union and Singapore sign Free Trade and Investment Protection Agreements

Singapore, European Union sign landmark free trade, partnership agreements
By Zakir Hussain, Foreign Editor In Brussels, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2018

Singapore and the European Union have inked a landmark trade agreement, hailing it as a signal of their commitment to open trade and its potential to benefit their people.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong signed the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) alongside European Council President Donald Tusk, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz - whose country holds the rotating EU presidency - and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit in Brussels yesterday.

PM Lee told BBC Radio: "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."

European leaders have described the deal as a symbol of their commitment to free trade and its potential to benefit their people at a time when protectionism is on the rise. They also see it as a pathfinder to a wider FTA with ASEAN.

PM Lee and his EU counterparts also witnessed the inking of the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement and EU-Singapore Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan signed for Singapore.

The new FTA will further free up access for each side to the other's market and offer opportunities for Singapore companies to bid for jobs with European government entities, including at local levels, and vice versa. It also recognises the complex nature of global supply chains by allowing some products that draw on material from ASEAN but are put together in Singapore to be exempted from Customs duties.

The two-day ASEM Summit saw 53 partners commit to strengthening multilateralism.

"As a small country, Singapore feels more acutely than most the need for a strong multilateral system," PM Lee told fellow leaders. "But such a system actually benefits all countries big and small."

European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA): Key points of deal
The Sunday Times, 21 Oct 2018

• Singapore will drop tariffs on all products imported from the EU; the EU will remove tariffs on 84 per cent of Singapore products and the remaining 16 per cent over three to five years

• An investment-protection agreement will replace existing bilateral treaties and set up a new dispute-resolution mechanism for investors

• The deal is expected to be ratified by both sides, and enter into force, next year


• Tariff-free access for most exports to the EU, which is Singapore's third-largest trading partner and the world's largest single market

• Singapore companies will enjoy more access to EU's services sector, including tourism and telecommunication

• Singapore companies will be able to bid for more government procurement projects in the EU

• Lower costs for Singapore exporters in sectors like electronics, thanks to fewer duplicative testing and certification procedures


Food manufacturers, service sector stand to gain from trade pact
By Zakir Hussain, Foreign Editor, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2018

BRUSSELS • From manufacturers of spring roll pastry and frozen prata to service firms and serviced residence operators, Singapore companies big and small stand to gain from the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that was signed yesterday.

The FTA will be up for a vote in the European Parliament early next year, and enters into force once it is ratified. When that happens, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) estimates that over 80 per cent of Singapore exports will be able to enter the EU tariff-free.

Among those who stand to gain are Singapore food manufacturers. Their goods made in Singapore can enter the EU tariff-free, up to a combined quota of 1,250 tonnes a year.

Another feature of the deal allows manufacturers that include raw material and input sourced from ASEAN countries to qualify for tariff concessions.

Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran told Singapore reporters these "cumulation rules" are a recognition of today's increasingly complex global supply chains.

Another group of companies that stand to gain are firms offering a range of services which can bid for government procurement contracts, including at municipal level. The EU has one of the largest markets for such procurement, and there are numerous opportunities for Singapore firms in areas from computer-related services to sewage and waste disposal, he said.

Mr Iswaran also said the FTA and Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) have "ambitious provisions to create more opportunities for businesses from both sides".

The IPA will first have to be sent to regional and national Parliaments of EU member states for approval before it enters into force.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit said the signing was "a timely development given the growing international trade tensions" and hoped firms can enjoy the benefits at the start of next year.

"SBF is committed to support the successful implementation of the FTA by promoting the new economic opportunities it offers to our companies, especially SMEs," he said, noting that exporters of electronics, pharmaceuticals and chemicals are also well placed to benefit.

Mr Gerald Yong, CEO of CapitaLand International, which oversees and grows the Group’s global investment portfolio, said it could gain from the expected uptick in investment and business travellers in both markets. "We can also look forward to greater competitive edge and equal treatment as EU companies when bidding for contracts in the region," he said.

Trade pacts were also discussed when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Brussels yesterday. They discussed ongoing talks on the review of the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement.

They also looked forward to the early completion of the ratification of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and reaffirmed their commitment to reaching a substantial conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership soon.

PM Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said the pacts "reflect Singapore and Japan's joint commitment to free trade and a rules-based multilateral trading system".

PM Lee also met Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in Brussels yesterday.

Singapore open to FTA applying to United Kingdom post-Brexit
By Zakir Hussain, Foreign Editor, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2018

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."

3 landmark agreements deepen EU-Singapore ties
By Barbara Plinkert, Published The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2018

In this crucial year of Singapore's role as ASEAN chair and coordinator of ASEAN-EU relations for the next three years, three landmark agreements pave the way for even closer ties between the European Union and Singapore.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday signed the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels. They witnessed also the signing of the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) and the EU-Singapore Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA).

The signing of the comprehensive EUSFTA is a clear signal that the EU - the largest trading bloc in the world - and Singapore firmly believe in free and open trade and the benefits that it brings to consumers, workers, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and civil society at large. It helps strengthen an open, rules-based multilateral trading system for the world.

The EU remains by far the largest investor in Singapore. Bilateral foreign direct investment stocks reached €256 billion (S$404 billion) in 2016. The FTA contains a wide range of trade facilitating measures that will help promote greater access to each other's markets for trade in goods, services and public procurement. The IPA will encourage investments between the EU and Singapore, setting out rules that give investors a high level of protection, while the PCA will provide a framework to deepen cooperation in key political areas, from transport to science and technology.

Collectively, these agreements open a new chapter in EU-Singapore relations.

Singapore is already the EU's first trading partner in the ASEAN region and the 14th worldwide, while the EU is Singapore's third-largest trading partner after Malaysia and China, with trade in goods and services expanding on a yearly basis.

With the EUSFTA in place, Singaporean firms have secured access to 500 million consumers in the EU. The EUSFTA adds to the already positive trends when it comes to trade. Annual bilateral trade between the EU and Singapore in goods and services has increased significantly in the past decade and could surpass the €100 billion mark this year.

Trade in goods expanded by 9.23 per cent in January-July this year on a year-to-year basis, with a positive trend for both imports and exports. Bilateral trade in goods amounted to €53.3 billion last year, with the EU exporting goods worth €33.16 billion, mainly cars and machinery, while importing €20.14 billion, in particular chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Singapore's position as a gateway for European business to ASEAN will be reinforced through these new agreements. The EUSFTA and IPA are the first of their kind signed between an ASEAN member and the EU. They will serve as a reference point and set the standard for future trade deals of the EU in South-east Asia, as well as a future ASEAN-EU agreement.

The EUSFTA will strengthen already positive EU-Singapore trade and investment relations. First, it will eliminate all tariffs for EU exports to Singapore. On entry into force, over 80 per cent of all imports from Singapore will enter the EU duty-free. For the remaining products, EU tariffs will be removed within three or five years, depending on the product category.

The EUSFTA will also lift restrictions in the service sector, where bilateral trade amounted to €44.4 billion in 2016. The EU is Singapore's largest trading partner in services, while over 12,000 EU companies use Singapore as a hub to serve South-east Asia.

Second, in addition to the removal of Customs duties and non-tariff barriers for trade in goods and services, the EUSFTA contains important new provisions on intellectual property protection, investment liberalisation, public procurement, competition and sustainable development. It will ease business dealings in Singapore and the EU, especially for SMEs.

The IPA with Singapore will offer more certainty to investors while safeguarding the rights of the EU and Singapore to regulate and pursue public policy objectives such as the protection of public health, safety and the environment. It will replace the 12 existing bilateral investment treaties between Singapore and EU member states.

Along with the EUSFTA and the IPA, the PCA reflects the commitment of both parties to deepen ties and set them on a new, wider and comprehensive foundation.

The PCA will provide a new and enhanced legal framework governing overall relations between the EU and Singapore. It will enable mutually beneficial cooperation in key areas such as security, environment, energy, transport, science and technology. The PCA will also improve people-to-people links through study and cultural exchanges.

Stronger Singapore-EU ties will also provide more opportunities for broader ASEAN-EU collaboration. As the two most advanced regional integration initiatives in the world, with over 40 years of collaboration, the EU and ASEAN are indeed natural partners working towards achieving shared goals. This is consistent with the conviction that thinking and acting beyond borders is a pre-condition for tackling global challenges such as climate change, terrorism and cybercrime.

For example, cooperation on security is a strategic and growing aspect of the EU's relationship with ASEAN, and includes areas such as maritime security, conflict prevention, mediation and reconciliation, crisis management, transnational crime, counter-terrorism, cyber security and non-proliferation.

Having advanced its internal capacity as a security actor in recent years, the EU has become a stronger partner on security matters externally too. With ASEAN, this has been translated into various key engagements in regional platforms such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, Shangri-La Dialogue and Singapore International Cyber Week.

Together, the EU and Singapore can overcome geographical distances through ever increasing digital and people-to-people links.

Both sides are already like-minded partners which are committed to the principles of multilateralism, free and open trade, and a rules-based global order.

The conclusion of these three significant agreements with Singapore underlines the EU's commitment to establishing stronger networks and strengthening partnerships, and to remaining a dependable and steady partner, in times of rising protectionism and rapid global transformations.

Barbara Plinkert is Ambassador of the European Union to Singapore.

12th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit in Brussels, Belgium

Asia, Europe leaders reaffirm resolve to boost multilateralism
They emphasise need to support and update global institutions like UN and WTO, which are under stress
By Zakir Hussain, Foreign Editor In Brussels, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2018

Leaders from Asia and Europe reiterated their commitment to strengthening the multilateral system at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Brussels yesterday.

"Only the multilateral approach allows us to confront global challenges," said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, as several other leaders in their speeches also underlined the need to support and update global institutions such as the United Nations and World Trade Organisation (WTO) that are under stress.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who addressed a plenary session titled "Reinforcing the Multilateral System", outlined how economies are much more interconnected and interdependent today - and countries had to work together to make progress on global challenges.

"Even the biggest rely on a stable global system within which they can cooperate productively and compete peacefully, resolve disputes, and work together on new areas," he said. "If we weaken the multilateral framework, at the minimum we will reduce our standards of living, but beyond that we will exacerbate rivalries and conflicts and further risk destabilising the world order."

PM Lee was therefore glad that many Asian and European countries had stepped forward to reaffirm their commitment to multilateralism. "Countries have generally responded with restraint to trade disputes. Some are liberalising their economies and reforming outdated practices. Several are working on major regional free trade agreements," he said.

"As a small country, Singapore feels more acutely than most the need for a strong multilateral system. But such a system actually benefits all countries big and small," he added.

"If countries take a purely realpolitik approach, acting on the basis that might is right, they may gain in the short term, but they will forgo many more opportunities for win-win cooperation in the long term. This will ultimately not be sustainable."

PM Lee also noted how the open, inclusive system the United States upheld over the past 70 years had enabled many countries to prosper, including America.

As a result of this success, the global balance has changed. The European Union and China now each have a gross domestic product about equal to the US in purchasing power parity terms. Yet no economy can play the role the US initially did in the global system.

And the multilateral framework has come under severe stress, with countries acting on their own, and explicitly turning their back on multilateral approaches and bodies.

There is thus a need, PM Lee said, to update and strengthen WTO rules to deal with new issues such as technology transfer and e-commerce.

The trade framework must also reflect the changed balance - in both the influence and responsibilities countries have - in order to be seen as fair and politically sustainable.

Global financial governance is another area in need of strengthening, he said. He was glad that the European Commission and the European Central Bank had strongly supported recent recommendations by a G-20 eminent persons group, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, to reduce the incidence and severity of financial crises - among others - so countries need not fear opening up. "These proposals, when they are implemented, will significantly strengthen and stabilise the global financial system," he said.

Issues like climate change and nuclear proliferation can also be solved only multilaterally, he added.

European Council President Donald Tusk said ASEM's members underlined their commitment to keep the platform's process open. "Leaders stressed that recent international developments have boosted the relevance of ASEM as a building block for effective multilateralism and the rules-based international order anchored in international law and with the UN at its core," he said.

"They highlighted the vital need of maintaining an open world economy and upholding the rules-based multilateral trading system, with the WTO at its core," he added.

Mr Tusk said ASEM leaders also stressed their commitment to comply with WTO rules, work to make its dispute settlement system more effective and redouble ongoing efforts at reforming the organisation.

Multilateral system benefits all: PM Lee
But he says it needs to be updated, address issues like cyber security
By Zakir Hussain, Foreign Editor, The Sunday Times, 21 Oct 2018

The free trade deal Singapore and the European Union have just signed shows that both sides are open for business, and that they are committed to free trade, liberalisation and the principles of interdependence and cooperation, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

"We hope that other countries will also maintain this line and will also uphold the multilateral system which we all benefit from," he added in an interview with Singapore reporters shortly after the signing ceremony at the end of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit last Friday.

Expressing a similar hope was European Commission (EC) president Jean-Claude Juncker, who said the signing "is a strong message by like-minded partners to defend and promote an international system based on rules, cooperation and multilateralism".

The summit involving 30 European and 21 Asian countries, the EU and the ASEAN secretariat took place amid ongoing trade tensions between the US and China, and days after US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross blamed the EU for unsatisfactory progress in ongoing trade talks.

Many ASEM members, however, did not explicitly single out the United States for drifting towards unilateral action, even as they called for upholding multilateral cooperation to tackle pressing and emerging challenges.

Asked about their mood, PM Lee said he sensed the Europeans were anxious. "They also have a lot of business with China, at the same time America is crucial to them. It's not just a big economic partner, but a treaty ally for the Nato members. How do they manage both relationships and stay friends with both?" he said.

"They don't really want to be forced to go one way or the other, just as we don't want to be forced to have to choose sides."

PM Lee added that just as EU leaders are working hard to deal with the trade issues with the US, they also had trade issues with China that are not negligible.

He cited how at the ASEM retreat last Friday, China's Premier Li Keqiang had to excuse himself after he spoke as he was due to have a separate bilateral lunch with EC president Juncker on trade issues.

"These are tensions which have arisen in the multilateral system," PM Lee said, noting it was why he had raised the need to not just uphold multilateralism but also bring it up to date, which would include addressing new issues such as cyber security and e-commerce.

"You can't go back to where it was, because the old system was showing its strains and limitations. But if you abandon it and go one to one bilaterally, I arm wrestle you and you arm wrestle him and whoever is stronger bilaterally wins, in the end… everybody will lose, and not just economically," he added.

"That is a message that people will accept. Whether there will therefore be the give and take sufficient to reach a wearable and sustainable solution, there's a lot of work to be done still," he said.

Earlier in the day, PM Lee told fellow leaders that without agreed rules for cyberspace, countries that are attacked will respond in kind, and the world would risk degenerating into a state of open warfare unfettered by any rules.

Countries should therefore form enforceable rules and norms to restrain and verify errant behaviour, he said.

Much for ASEAN, EU to learn from one another, says PM Lee
By Zakir Hussain, Foreign Editor, The Sunday Times, 21 Oct 2018

BRUSSELS • As two of the world's most successful regional organisations, ASEAN and the European Union are natural partners, especially in the light of protectionist sentiments that threaten the rules-based global order.

The EU is consistently ASEAN's largest source of foreign investment and among its top three trading partners. Cooperation is substantial and growing, spanning many sectors.

Against this backdrop, both sides have much to share and learn from each other as they tackle common challenges like upholding multilateralism, cyber security and climate change, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the start of the EU-ASEAN Leaders' Meeting last Friday evening.

Singapore is the chairman of ASEAN this year, as well as the coordinator for ASEAN-EU dialogue relations until mid-2021.

PM Lee also said he hopes the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed last Friday will lead to an ASEAN-EU FTA, which is still in its early stages.

More immediately, he hopes a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement between ASEAN and the EU will be settled this year.

This would free up air services on both sides, enabling better connectivity and more links.

Both pacts would also send a signal of the groupings' commitment to multilateralism, trade liberalisation and economic integration.

There is also interest in cooperating on cyber security and smart cities, an initiative for Singapore's chairmanship of ASEAN this year, as well as on people-to-people cooperation, PM Lee said in an interview with Singapore media at the end of his trip to Brussels for the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit.

"It's quite a rich agenda. And it involves not just the government but also the private sector, also the people sector," he said.

One item on ASEAN's agenda this year is a substantial conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal between ASEAN and six key partners. Asked for an update, PM Lee said officials hope to work towards a conclusion at year-end, but it depends on one or two major players.

He said he had discussed this when he met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will meet his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi during his visit to Japan in the week ahead.

As for European sentiments on the stalled Brexit talks and rising protectionism, PM Lee noted that Britain's exit from the EU is a very difficult separation to bring about.

"Both sides would like to work something out. I hope they will," he added.

The British have also said they would like to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which brings together the remaining 11 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership after the US pullout.

"From Singapore's point of view, we are happy with that," PM Lee said. "The terms have been worked out, and if they are prepared to sign on to the terms as an additional partner, it doesn't cost any competitive difficulties for us. For the other CPTPP parties, the British will have to talk to them.

"Singapore's not opposed and in fact is supportive."

Other European countries also see potential in developing economic ties with Singapore, especially Central and Eastern European countries, he added, citing his conversations with his counterparts from Poland, Finland, Estonia and Croatia at ASEM.

While trade volumes are quite small, "there is some potential because they have quite high levels of technology, of science".

"They are young countries anxious to find new markets, so we are keen to make friends," PM Lee said.

Also on the agenda was climate change. "Singapore's taking it very seriously. And it's useful to talk to the EU because they are very focused on this," he added.

PM Lee noted that the Europeans have gone the furthest in developing sustainable energy sources like wind and solar power, and encouraging a recycling economy rather than a throwaway or burn economy. "There are some things we can learn from them," he said.

* Green light for European Union's FTA with Singapore
Pact will do away with nearly all Customs duties; two more agreements with Singapore get go-ahead
By Seow Bei Yi, Business Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2019

The European Parliament has given the green light to a landmark trade agreement with Singapore that is set to remove nearly all Customs duties between the two jurisdictions.

Following a majority vote in favour of the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) yesterday in France, the pact can be ratified and come into force. Two other agreements were also given the go-ahead.

Calling this an important milestone in Singapore's bilateral relations with the EU, Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran said that "Singapore and EU companies, in particular our small and medium-sized enterprises, can look forward to significant benefits from the reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers".

The EUSFTA eliminates duties, allowing 84 per cent of Singapore exports to enter the EU duty-free once it comes into force. This includes that on Asian food products and electronics.

Further benefits include having material from Asean deemed as originating from Singapore when incorporated into certain final products, enabling these items to qualify for preferential tariff treatment.

Singapore will remove remaining tariffs on EU products and commit to retaining current duty-free access for other EU products as well. It will also remove other obstacles such as by recognising the EU's safety tests for cars and electronic appliances.

There are more than 10,000 European companies in Singapore, and the EU is Singapore's third largest trading partner.

Two other deals with Singapore also received majority support in the European Parliament, though they will need to be approved by regional and national Parliaments of member states before they can enter into force.

One of them is the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement (IPA), which will replace 12 existing bilateral investment treaties between Singapore and various EU member states, encouraging investments and setting out rules giving investors protection.

The other is the EU-Singapore Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which provides a framework to deepen cooperation in key areas, from transport to science and technology.

The FTA and IPA are "strategic pathfinders to an eventual EU-Asean trade and investment agreement", said Mr Iswaran. He added that they underlined a shared commitment to open trade.

The FTA is a positive development given uncertainties on how long US-China trade tensions may last, OCBC Bank's head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling told The Straits Times. She added that the EU market can provide some buffer to companies here.

The EUSFTA has been over a decade in the making, with European Parliament member and EUSFTA rapporteur David Martin saying in a parliamentary debate on Tuesday that "while (US President) Donald Trump wants to build walls to separate nations, we are… keeping fair and free trade alive".

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom added: "In uncertain times, we need agreements like these more than ever."

Other leaders noted that the Republic is a gateway for EU firms to access economies such as China. They said that as the first bilateral trade pact signed between EU and an Asean country, it could be a model for future agreements with others in the region.

**  EU Council approves EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement which will take effect on 21 November 2019
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2019

The Council of the European Union has approved the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which will remove nearly all Customs duties between the two jurisdictions from Nov 21.

Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran made the announcement with EU Trade Commissioner-designate Phil Hogan at a gala dinner last night.

Mr Iswaran said the FTA marks a watershed moment in the relationship between them. It is the first such agreement between the EU, the world's largest single market, and an ASEAN member state.

He also said it will be a step towards a larger relationship between the EU and ASEAN, which is expected to be the world's fourth-largest market by 2030.

"This is a an excellent opportunity for companies on both sides, in the EU and in Singapore, and in particular for our small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)," he said.

Singapore will continue to ensure its SMEs can benefit from FTAs.

He noted Enterprise Singapore's setting up of a website with a tariff calculator for SMEs to find out their preferential margins for particular products or markets based on Singapore's 24 existing FTAs.

The FTA will allow 84 per cent of Singapore exports, including food products and electronics, to enter the EU duty-free, with the rest to follow in the next three to five years.

It also contains strong rules on trade and sustainable development, including the protection of labour rights and the environment, Mr Iswaran said. "Under the agreement, the EU and Singapore will remove obstacles to trade and investment in green technologies, as well as foster green public tendering and create new opportunities in environmental services.

"These forward-looking provisions recognise the increasing need for trade to contribute positively towards the fight against climate change and reaffirm our commitment to the Paris Agreement."

Mr Hogan said a "European Green Deal" will be a priority for the next European Commission - the executive arm of the EU - which will take office next month.

"Singapore will be able to tap into the initiatives that will be proposed to 'green' business activities across the EU. There will be a lot of money invested in new initiatives and opportunities for environmental services, businesses and software industries that Singapore will be able to take advantage of," he said.

The Singapore Business Federation welcomed the FTA, saying it bears testament to both parties' belief in free and open trade.

"More notably, (it) marks the first bilateral FTA where Asian food products made in Singapore can enter the EU tariff-free," it added.

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