I would first like to welcome the Delegation of Singapore, led by H.E. Mr. Lee Chuan Teck, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Trade and Industry. I would like to thank the WTO Secretariat and the Delegation of Singapore for their reports, which form the basis for our discussion today. My appreciation is extended to the Discussant, H.E. Dagfinn Sørli (Ambassador of Norway) for getting us started today with his remarks.
The European Union warmly welcomes this opportunity to take a closer look at the trade practices of Singapore since the last Trade Policy Review in 2016.
Looking back at 2016, it feels as if we are looking at a different era. The fundamentals then were in many ways the same as now. In 2016, just as today, the EU considered Singapore as a clear example of how trade and foreign investment can bring prosperity to a country. The decision taken by Singapore years ago to build its economic development strategy on sound policies and an open and transparent trade and investment regime has given extremely good results. Foreign investment poured into the country and Singapore rapidly became a business and trade hub in the region.
However, as pointed out by Singapore in its TPR report “The review period (2017-2021) was marked by an unprecedented health and economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic”. In other words, the pandemic has changed everything. Singapore’s economy expanded between 2016 and 2019 at an average annual rate of 3.1% but GDP contracted by 5.4% in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Singapore, like most other countries in the world, has had to re-focus economic activity towards mitigating the impact of the pandemic on the economy and to plan for a post-pandemic recovery. The EU supports those efforts by Singapore, especially as the country continues to be very open to trade in both goods and services.
Another important factor that differs from 2016, from the EU point of view, is the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Singapore, which entered into force on 21st November 2019. The EU and Singapore are close partners in a rapidly changing world. The Free Trade Agreement has brought us even closer.
We are reinforcing collaboration in areas that are equally important to both of us, such as sustainability and climate change, which also have significant impact on trade. We have convened the first Trade and Sustainable Development Board under the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, which gives us an opportunity to reinforce joint efforts towards a resilient and sustainable post-pandemic economic recovery.
To this end, both of us adopted new climate oriented strategies: the European Green Deal is the EU’s broad roadmap for climate neutrality - just like the Green Plan 2030 is the guiding roadmap for Singapore’s efforts. Clearly, by working together and building on synergies we can have an even bigger impact at a global scale.
The EU and Singapore both are also strong supporters of multilateralism. We work jointly in the World Trade Organisation and support its reform, so it can continue playing a pivotal role in developing global trade rules. We hope that we can count on Singapore’s continued engagement in ensuring that the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference delivers results that will restore the credibility of the Organisation and provide it with the tools it needs to face today’s challenges.
In this regard, we welcome the decision announced this morning that Singapore is joining the Joint Statement Initiative on services domestic regulation. Taking this important decision involved significant coordination and consultation efforts. We trust that this step sets example for other Members who have not joined the JSI yet to follow suit.
We both joined the International Platform on Sustainable Finance to support the objective of scaling up the mobilisation of private capital towards environmentally sustainable investments. Singapore and EU also support international solidarity in the fight against COVID-19 by contributing to the COVAX mechanism aimed at rolling out vaccinations at a global scale.
It has been under the stewardship of Singapore, having held the role of ASEAN coordinator for relations with the EU over the past three years, that we were able to announce the elevation of relations between the EU and ASEAN to a strategic partnership in December 2020. This is truly indicative of a new chapter in the long-standing relationship between our two regional organisations in the spirit of shared values and mutual cooperation. As partners in integration, the EU and ASEAN have many shared interests, from the immediate such as cooperation in overcoming the COVID-19 crisis, including on vaccines and rebuilding our economies in a green and sustainable way, to the overarching objective of promoting effective multilateralism.
On behalf of the EU, I wish Singapore a very successful 8th Trade Policy Review. Thank you.