The European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) is a signed but yet to be ratified free trade agreement between the EU and Singapore that has been discussed since 2010. However, recent developments have shown that the trade agreement is finally close to ratification.

During a business reception in Brussels, Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S Iswaran said that the EUSFTA would be particularly helpful for SMEs, most of which are struggling to cope with the dismal global economy as of late. He also noted that large firms “find their own way around the world”, but small firms need help to navigate new markets and gain access to them.

Mr Noel Clehane, chairman of the European Services Forum (ESF) has also named several benefits that the EUSFTA bring. These include improved market access for a range of services, and the facilitation of mobility for professionals between the EU and Singapore, which would be vital in assisting with staff secondment and transfers. It will also make it much easier for talent to flow between the two nations.

While agreements between countries are important to shape the overall architecture of their relations, “it is really the businesses that enliven these agreements”, said Mr Iswaran.

Mr Iswaran also noted that the rising wealth and prominence of the middle class in Southeast Asia meant that there is also a rising demand for high-quality goods and services, education, and healthcare; all of which are a specialty of Europe. As such, he believes that the EUSFTA could serve as a pathway to a potential future EU-ASEAN trade agreement.

Agreements such as the EUSFTA deal in the movement of goods and services in a traditional sense, but firms today deal in the digital movement of data too, he said: “So we should really be working on digital economy initiatives.” These could include rules governing the movement of data across borders, or those around cross-border e-payments.

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