THE free trade agreement that Singapore has successfully negotiated with the European Union (EU) will likely only come into force in 2015 at the earliest.
Asked for the latest timeline for the landmark deal, the first bilateral agreement between the EU and an Asean country, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it won't be wrapped up this year because of the lengthy process that is needed to get the FTA up and running.
The first step is to get the green light from the European Parliament, but that won't happen until after it completes its elections this May.
Then comes the next step of collecting the ratifications from all 28 EU member states, and even then the procedure to do so varies from country to country, he said.
"I imagine it will take the rest of these nine months (of the year)," he told reporters after attending the Singapore Day event in London last Saturday.
He shared that Singapore officials were systematically going from country to country in Europe to lobby for their support of the FTA.
"The governments we have lobbied have all expressed warm and strong support, and we look forward to (getting the FTA ratified) as soon as we can," he said.
Over the course of his week-long trip in Europe, all the European leaders whom Mr Lee met, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, supported an early ratification.
During each of those meetings, and at several other functions along the way, Mr Lee described the EU-Singapore FTA as a "win-win proposition" for both parties.
Trade between Singapore and Europe has grown more than 60 per cent in the decade to 2013.
Based on Singapore's bilateral trade figures for 2012, some $23.2 billion worth of Singapore goods - about 80 per cent of all EU tariff lines - will qualify for immediate tariff-free treatment, while the remaining $4.3 billion will qualify three or five years after the FTA enters into force.
At a reception held to mark the opening of Temasek Holdings' new Europe office in London last Friday, Mr Lee said that the FTA proved that, strategically, Europe remains open to the world.
"In concrete business terms, it helps European companies use Singapore as the gateway to expand into Asia, and Asian companies to use Singapore as a base to venture into Europe," he told a high-level audience comprising investment bankers, corporate bigwigs and diplomats.
"Please lend your weight and persuasive powers to encourage all European governments to support and ratify the EU-Singapore FTA," said the prime minister.
London was the final stop of Mr Lee's three-city tour of Europe. He was first in The Hague to attend the biennial Nuclear Security Summit before heading to Luxembourg for the first time. He returned to Singapore yesterday.