EU, Singapore Conclude Far-Reaching Trade Deal

By Philip Blenkinsop 20 September 2013

BRUSSELS — The European Union and Singapore submitted for approval on Friday one of the world’s most comprehensive free trade agreements, which the EU sees as a stepping stone towards a wider deal with Southeast Asia.

The chief negotiators of both sides presented the entire text of the agreement on Friday after initialing each page of the roughly 1,000-page document.

Subject to approval in Singapore and by the 28 EU member states and the European Parliament, the agreement should enter into force in late 2014 or early 2015.

Trade in goods between the two topped 52 billion euros (about US $70 billion) in 2012 and in services 28 billion euros ($38 billion) in 2011. Mutual investment has reached 190 billion euros ($256 billion).

The European Union sees a free trade deal as opening the door to a deal with other members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which has set a goal of economic integration by 2015.

The EU and Asean launched free trade talks in 2007, but abandoned them two years later, the EU choosing instead to conduct bilateral talks with individual members.

The European Commission is already negotiating free trade accords with Malaysia and Vietnam and launched talks in March with Thailand.

Singapore has a population of just 5 million people, against some 600 million for the whole of Asean, but accounts for about a third of all EU-Asean trade and more than 60 percent of all investment between the two regions.

The deal goes beyond many other free trade accords in committing to open up public procurement, an area where the EU has many leading suppliers, and agreeing on technical standards in areas such motor vehicles, electronics and green technologies.

For example, a car made according to EU standards will be accepted for sale in Singapore.

The European Union also gains better protection of “geographical indications”, region-specific products such as Parma ham or champagne.

EU tariffs on virtually all items from Singapore will disappear over five years. Singapore has committed to its existing zero tariffs on EU imports.

Singapore is likely to benefit from reduced tariffs for pharmaceutical and petrochemical products.

In services, particularly financial, the agreement will ensure the right to sell directly or establish branches in each other’s markets and promises to provide greater transparency over the award of licenses.