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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Signing of UK-Singapore Free Trade Agreement

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Signing of UK-Singapore Free Trade Agreement

The Right Honourable Elizabeth Truss, UK Secretary of State for International Trade, 

Excellencies, 

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

1. A very good morning to all. 

2. I am delighted to welcome Secretary Truss to Singapore for the signing of the UK-Singapore FTA. This is another milestone in the historical and close friendship between Singapore and the UK. I am glad that we can celebrate this special occasion today in person, amidst these difficult times during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a demonstration of our determination to keep up the links notwithstanding the difficult challenges.

3. Singapore and the UK share a deep historical bond and a comprehensive friendship. Just last year, Singapore commemorated the bicentennial of Sir Stamford Raffles’s arrival in Singapore, an event that changed the course of Singapore’s history (for the better, in case Secretary Truss is wondering). Our social and cultural links are excellent, underpinned by the thousands of students, tourists and workers who traverse our island nations every year. I count myself fortunate to be among them; I fondly remember my time in Cambridge University.

4. Yet it is in our economic relations where the strength of our bilateral relationship shines through. The UK is Singapore’s 3rd and 2nd largest trading partner for goods and services respectively, as well as our top investment destination in Europe. In turn, Singapore is the UK’s largest trade and investment partner in Southeast Asia. Beyond economic statistics, our two countries also share an abiding belief in looking outwards and working with international partners to prosper and grow together. Some would say that such globalist values are typical of island nations, but I would add that our shared historical legacy also shaped these common ideals. 

5. That is why the signing of the UKSFTA today is such a significant event. It shows that even amidst a pandemic and the worst recession in decades, our countries are committed to work together to prosper our economies, and to prosper each other. It shows that despite nationalist pressures in many countries to pull back from globalisation, we continue to promote integration and partnership. It shows that despite our current difficulties, we are firmly focused on the future. 

6. The UKSFTA provides a clear path forward for us to continue strengthening our economic partnership. As the first FTA between the UK and an ASEAN Member State, it also represents the UK’s deepening engagement of the region, and provides British businesses a platform to access opportunities in the region through Singapore.

7. In these volatile times, the UKSFTA provides Singapore and UK businesses the certainty they need to find and access new growth opportunities. Immediate and tangible benefits include: 

a. Tariff elimination for 84% of all tariff lines for Singapore exports to the UK upon the UKSFTA’s entry into force, with virtually all remaining tariffs eliminated by November 2024 – the same timeline as it would be under the EUSFTA. 

b. Enhanced market access for Asian food products made in Singapore, such as har gow (prawn dumplings) and sambal ikan bilis (spicy crispy anchovies). 

i. We hope this will allow our UK friends to try more of our distinctive Asian food products.  

c. EU and ASEAN cumulation that will help support the regional operations and supply chains of UK and Singapore companies will also continue.

8. Beyond the significant benefits to our respective businesses, the UKSFTA is a strong statement against protectionism and nativism. Such support for an open and rules-based trading system will be crucial in ensuring a strong and resilient post-pandemic recovery for the world.

9. It is in this same vein that Singapore supports and welcomes the UK’s intent to submit its application to accede to the CPTPP in early 2021. This will bring us closer to the CPTPP’s vision of advancing economic integration and supporting the liberalisation of trade and investment at a global level. 

10. Beyond the UKSFTA, the UK and Singapore have also agreed to start scoping the modules of a UK-Singapore DEA, with a view to launching negotiations in early 2021.

11. This is especially timely. The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised the importance of digital connectivity, and accelerated the rise of the digital economy. 

12. There is much that the UK and Singapore can do under a UK-Singapore DEA that goes beyond the current UKSFTA e-commerce provisions. 

a. This is an opportunity for the UK and Singapore to set high standards in digital trade rules within Europe and Southeast Asia, and we hope that this will also be a pathfinder for global standards of the same nature in the same domain.

b. A UK-Singapore DEA could address modern and forward-looking trade issues including cross-border data connectivity for our respective financial services sectors, which are key pillars for both of our economies.

13. The DEA would strengthen the linkages between Singapore and the UK as global digital hubs, and facilitate digital trade for the future. In fact, our vision is for Singapore and the UK to be the twin hubs for our respective regions, that Singapore will be able to serve the region and UK businesses can use Singapore as a platform to serve and access the region. Likewise, we hope to be able to partner UK for Singapore to be able to bring Asia and ASEAN businesses to Europe through the UK and to the UK.

14. Finally, I wish to thank Secretary Truss for her leadership in bringing the UKSFTA to fruition. I would also like to thank all the staff working behind the scenes. Not all of them could be here today but our appreciation goes out to them because without their hard work, we would not have been able to achieve this timeline so rapidly and so efficiently. Beyond the UKSFTA, I look forward to working with Secretary Truss to take UK-Singapore relations even further.


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