SINGAPORE and Australia have inked a landmark agreement to collaborate in areas such as economic integration, defence and promoting innovation as well as facilitating tourism, cultural exchanges and educational opportunities.
According to a release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), this builds on the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) adopted in June 2015.
One of the major initiatives under the agreement is to update and modernise the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) which was signed in 2003. Under the third review of the SAFTA, both countries will implement measures to boost trade and investment flows. These measures will reinforce Singapore's position as a trading and investment partner for Australia.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have also agreed to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. Research and scientific bodies will be brought together - these include the National Research Foundation; the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). To support their collaboration, matching funding will be provided by both countries amounting to about S$50 million over five years.
The MFA said that it welcomes Australia's decision to set up a "landing pad" in Singapore to facilitate high tech Australian startups, which will create opportunities for local companies.
In addition, a defence collaboration deal will provide Singapore with greater access to military training areas Down Under over a period of 25 years. Singapore and Australia will also enhance military personnel exchanges as well as intelligence and information sharing, such as in counter-terrorism.
Other initiatives under the deal will mean multi-year visa arrangements for Singaporeans travelling to Australia as well as a fund of up to S$5 million over a period of five years to support Singapore artists, arts groups and performers profiling their works in Australia.
PM Lee said: "It is a win-win deal that will cement relations and benefit Australians and Singaporeans for years to come. The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) is an ambitious package covering many aspects of our relationship. We will move quickly to implement the various measures, although some will take time to bear fruit. Our two countries are politically like-minded, strategically-aligned and economically complementary. We have much to gain by working closely together. The CSP will draw our two countries closer, economically, politically and at the people-to-people level."
In a statement on Friday morning, the Australian Chamber of Commerce Singapore (AustCham) welcomed the developments under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) framework, with AustCham president Guy Scott noting that the new developments address many of the issues that businesses see as obstacles to their expansion into Singapore.
“Singapore is best placed to be a hub for businesses looking to expand into the broader South-east Asian region, and these changes make it easier for companies to do that,” he said. “The changes to labour mobility requirements are particularly exciting, and will open the door for many businesses to expand their presence in Singapore and give more of their staff a greater opportunity to experience working in Asian markets.”
He went on to add: “AustCham has been advocating strongly for many of these changes, and to see them come to fruition is very encouraging. Now it is time for business to step up and take advantage of these new opportunities.”