Parliament endorsed the free trade and investment protection deals between EU and Singapore, serving as blueprint for further cooperation with Southeast Asia.

The free trade agreement, to which Parliament gave its consent by 425 votes, 186 votes against and 41 abstentions, will remove virtually all tariffs between the two parties within five years. It will allow for free trade in services, including in retail banking, it protects unique European products such as Jerez wine or Nürnberger Bratwurst and opens up the Singaporean procurement market to EU companies working, for example, in the rail sector. The agreement also includes strengthened labour rights and environmental protection, an element particularly important to Parliament.

Stepping stone to Asia

As the first bilateral trade agreement between the EU and a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the deal can serve as a stepping stone to further free trade deals between the two regions, at a time when the EU can no longer rely on the US as a trading partner, the resolution accompanying the decision states. It was adopted by 431 votes for, 189 against and 52 abstentions.

Investment court for dispute settlement

Separately, Parliament also agreed by 436 votes for, 203 against and 30 abstentions to an investment protection agreement providing a court system with independent judges to settle disputes between investors and state, and to a partnership and cooperation agreement, by 537 votes for, 85 against and 50 abstentions, which extends cooperation beyond the field of trade.

Singapore is by far the EU’s largest partner in the region, accounting for almost a third of EU-ASEAN trade in goods and services, and roughly two-thirds of investment between the two regions. Over 10,000 European companies have their regional offices in Singapore.

“Parliament has shown it is committed to a rules-based trading system: the EU keeps fair and free trade alive. The trade agreement will not only enhance the EU’s access to the Singapore market, but even more to the growing ASEAN region, while ensuring workers and the environment are well protected. The investment protection agreement incorporates the EU’s reformed approach, and will replace the existing Singapore-EU member state deals that include the toxic investor-state dispute settlement,” said David Martin (S&D, UK), the rapporteur on the agreements on the free trade and the investment protection deals.

“In a time when Trump pursues an ‘America First’ trade policy, the EU continues to show support for a free and fair trade. The free trade agreement will not only enhance the EU’s access to the Singapore market, but even more to the growing ASEAN region, while ensuring strong protections for workers and the environment. I particularly welcome the commitment by the Singapore government to ratify the three outstanding International Labour Organisation core conventions, which was obtained thanks to the continued pressure by our Group,” Martin added.

EPP: trade and jobs to the benefit of all

“The trade agreement with Singapore is another milestone in EU trade policy. The deal secures market access for European companies in the most important economy of the ASEAN states and will be a stepping stone towards further cooperation with the rest of the region. Additionally, the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement which accompanies the Trade Agreement contains all of the aspects of the EU’s new approach to investment protection. It will ensure an adequate level of investor certainty while explicitly safeguarding the EU’s and Singapore’s rights to regulate and pursue public policy objectives”, said Seán Kelly MEP who is the EPP Group Shadow Rapporteur on the EU-Singapore trade package.

EPP Group says that EU-Singapore is the third modern trade agreement after EU-Canada (CETA) and EU-Japan (JEFTA). Tariffs in trade in goods and services between the EU and Singapore will be gradually abandoned altogether within the next five years. There will be new market opportunities for European entrepreneurs for financial, environmental, IT, postal and telecoms services. Furthermore, EU companies will be able to take part in public procurement tenders in Singapore.

“The Partnership Agreement with Singapore is a vital pillar of the EU’s foreign policy. Stable and friendly relations with the countries in South-East Asia are an indispensable tool for a multilateral world order that we wish to maintain and foster”, said EPP Group MEP Antonio Lopéz-Isturiz White who is the European Parliament Rapporteur on the Partnership Agreement.

ALDE: A blueprint for future deals

ALDE MEPs stressed the importance of a successful conclusion of these agreements, which will remove all tariffs within five years and open up new opportunities for European producers, workers and consumers, while at the same time securing high social and environmental standards.

MEP Ramon Tremosa i Balcells, ALDE Shadow on the EU-Singapore trade and investment agreements commented: “Nine years after the beginning of the negotiations, we are now finally coming to a positive conclusion, ensuring the EU’s credibility as a trading partner. Today, we want to send the strong signal that we are open to business and stand up for free and fair trade with like-minded partners around the world.”

“Lots of patience and efforts have been invested on both sides, but all the work was worth it. This agreement creates a win-win situation for consumers as well as companies on both sides. It will serve as a blueprint for future trade agreements with Southeast Asian countries,” he concluded.

Kamall: Trade deal with Singapore opens door to EU trade with south-east Asia

Syed Kamall, co-Chairman of the ECR Group who was previously the lead MEP for the parliament on EU-Singapore team, said the deal means a host of new business opportunities for European companies. More than 10,000 EU businesses have their regional offices there, and 50,000 EU companies already export to Singapore.

“Today’s Singapore is a vibrant hub of transport, logistics and tech businesses. It is a gateway to the dynamically growing southeast Asia region and removing the trade barriers will give the much-needed impetus to both our economies,” Dr Kamall said.

“While I am pleased we have finally passed this deal, it should really have been agreed in 2014.  I want to thank the Singaporeans for their patience when in 2014 the EU insisted on re-opening negotiations after both parties had initialled a deal.  Let us hope that the EU does not act in such bad faith for future trade agreements,” ECR co-Chairman added.

Once Council concludes the trade agreement, it can enter into force on the first day of the second month following the conclusion. For the investment protection and the partnership and cooperation agreements to enter into force, the member states first need to ratify them.