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Keynote Address by Minister S Iswaran at the Business Forum on Agri-Food Opportunities under the EU-Singapore FTA

Keynote Address by Minister S Iswaran at the Business Forum on Agri-Food Opportunities under the EU-Singapore FTA

Your Excellency Janusz Wojciechowski, European Commissioner for Agriculture,

 

Your Excellency Iwona Piorko, EU Ambassador to Singapore,

 

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

1. I would like to begin by welcoming Commissioner Wojciechowski and the EU business delegation to Singapore. I would also like to thank the EU Delegation to Singapore, EuroCham, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), and Singapore agencies for organising this important event.

 

2. I have just returned from an official trip to Europe. As both the Commissioner and the Ambassador have stated, the issues pertaining to geopolitical tensions, the issues pertaining to inflation and economic challenges, as well as supply chain resilience concerns loom large on the agenda and discussions of businesses, as well as governments, even as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time like this, it is critical that we assume appropriate strategies and not make the wrong inferences. In particular, I would like to echo the points made by both the Commissioner and the Ambassador, which is really, importantly, we ought to resist the instinct to turn inwards. Rather, we double our efforts to strengthen cooperation, economic connectivity because these ultimately are the factors that are integral to our long-term resilience and also secure more opportunities for our businesses.

 

Robust EU-Singapore economic relations

 

3. The EU and Singapore are like-minded partners with strong, multifaceted relationship. Our economic ties are strong and growing, underpinned by the EU-Singapore FTA.

 

4. As a progressive and high-standard agreement, the EU-Singapore FTA has boosted trade and investment linkages between our two economies.

 

a. Its entry into force in end-2019 was timely in cushioning the impact of COVID-19 on our bilateral trade, which has risen by almost 10% compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. In 2021, our trade in goods exceeded S$100 billion.

 

5. The agri-food sector has been a key beneficiary of the EU-Singapore FTA, which contains important provisions supporting the growth of our bilateral agri-food trade.

 

a. For example, there are provisions on sanitary and phytosanitary measures to reduce compliance costs for exporters on both sides. There is strong protection for Geographical Indications, so as to strengthen consumers’ recognition of authentic and high-quality food and drink products. There are also flexible rules of origin that make it easier for EU consumers to enjoy Asian food products made in Singapore, such as prawn dumplings and spicy crispy anchovies (sambal ikan bilis).

 

b. Some EU food products have also seen exports to Singapore grow strongly during the pandemic.

 

i. From 2019 to 2021, EU exports of cheese and curd to Singapore grew by over 20%, and olive oil at around 8%.

 

ii. The FTA has been an important anchor to this relationship. I thank the Commissioner for his kind words. As we know, these sorts of agreements have many midwives and several of them are here in this room as well. I want to acknowledge the officials from both sides who have worked very hard to bring this agreement to fruition.

 

6. Today’s forum is another opportunity to further grow our two-way trade in agri-food products. I want to highlight the significant growth potential that our businesses could consider jointly.

 

  a. Despite our small population, Singapore is the largest market in ASEAN and 5th largest in Asia for EU food and drink exports. It has also been a fast-growing market, with EU exports of food and drinks to Singapore doubling in the past 10 years.

 

b. Demand across our region is rising as well, thanks to the growing middle-class and its demand for quality food products. In Asia, consumption of meat and seafood is expected to increase by another 78% from 2017 to 2050.[1] As a regional business and lifestyle hub, Singapore can be a launch pad for EU producers to export your products to our region and beyond.

 

c. The EU’s demand for agri-food products from Southeast Asia has also been on a steady rise. For example, from 2020 to 2021, there was a 15% increase in the EU’s import of fruit, nuts and spices; and a 36% increase in imports of soups and sauces.[2]

 

7. I encourage food companies from both the EU and Singapore to tap on the EU-Singapore FTA to grow food trade between our respective markets and regions.

 

Strong EU-Singapore cooperation on food security

 

8. Today’s Forum is also taking place at a time when food security has come to the fore on the global agenda.

 

9. Against a backdrop of rising food prices and disruptions to food supply chains, it is important that like-minded partners come together to send a strong signal of the importance of maintaining open and connected supply chains. In that regard, Singapore is glad to have a like-minded partner in the EU and its Member States who have similar instincts and similar aspirations.

 

  a. In 2020, Singapore worked with France and Poland to issue joint ministerial statements on the importance of maintaining food supply chain connectivity even as other countries were seeking to protect their own supplies. These were not just important agreements. These were important signals at a time when there were great concerns. These are the kind of partnerships that really help to strengthen the kind of ties we celebrate.

 

  b. The EU and Singapore have also worked together to advance food security at the multilateral level. At the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022, the EU, Singapore and other WTO Members issued the Ministerial Declaration on the Emergency Response to Food Insecurity. We also issued the Ministerial Decision to exempt food purchases under the World Food Programme from export prohibitions or restrictions.[3] Both declarations reaffirmed international commitment to avoid export prohibitions and restrictions on agriculture commodities and agri-food products.

 

New and innovative solutions needed to tackle the longer-term food security challenge

 

10. With the growing global population, urbanisation, and climate change, food security will remain a long-term challenge. Our partnership needs to extend beyond growing agri-food trade, to developing innovative solutions for growing global food supplies in a sustainable manner. R&D and technology are critical enablers for us to “grow more with less”, and in a resource-optimal, climate-resilient, and commercially sustainable fashion.

 

11. In this vein, Singapore is keen to work with EU companies on innovative and sustainable urban farming and food solutions, which could also be test-bedded in Singapore for the regional markets.

 

12. In addition, connectivity fundamentally underpins supply chain resilience, including for trade in food and drink products. With the rising digital economy, there is scope for us to explore applying digital technologies to also enhance connectivity in food trade.

 

a. I am happy to share that the EU and Singapore have been working to bring our trade and investment relationship into the digital realm through the EU-Singapore Digital Partnership, which we hope to unveil later this year.

 

b. Under this initiative, we will reduce the cost of digital transactions for companies by making them more efficient and seamless. We will also facilitate trusted data flows and promote secure digital environments for both companies and individuals.

 

c. For the food sector, possible use cases include electronic sanitary and phyto-sanitary certificates that can help move products faster across borders and enhance quality assurance for customers. In short, there is much that we have achieved, but there is much more that we can accomplish together. This forum is a great opportunity for us to explore those possibilities.

 

Conclusion

 

13. I would like to join the Commissioner and the Ambassador in wishing all of you the very best as you seek out new partnerships and seek out to unlock new business opportunities through the partnership.

 

14. Thank you.

 



[1] Charting Asia’s Protein Journey”, Asia Research and Engagements (ARE), 2018.

[2] Ibid.

[3] EU DEL has shared that Wojciechowski is expected to mention the MC12 outcomes on food security.

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