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China, Singapore deepen bilateral relations with slew of agreements signed

CHINA and Singapore deepened bilateral relations further on Monday with a slew of agreements signed in the city-state, including an upgraded free trade agreement between the two countries that would allow Singapore businesses better market access into the world’s second-largest economy.

Held at the Istana, the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (CSFTA) Upgrade Protocol was signed by Minister for Trade and Industry (MTI) Chan Chun Sing and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) International Trade Representative and Vice Minister of Commerce Fu Ziying. This was witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and PRC Premier Li Keqiang, on the sidelines of Mr Li’s official visit to Singapore.

The upgraded agreement provides Singapore businesses easier entry into China’s legal, maritime and construction services sector, as well as improved rules of origin for certain petrochemical products. It also includes enhancements in investment protection, customs procedures and trade facilitation, trade remedial measures, as well as commitments in new areas such as e-commerce, competition, and the environment. It will take effect after both countries have ratified the protocol.

Mr Chan noted that the signing of the agreement upgrade sent a “strong signal” of both countries’ commitment towards closer bilateral economic collaboration and evolving their “open and rules-based market trading system according to the market needs”.

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The conclusion of the CSFTA upgrade negotiations was first announced on Nov 5, 2018 on the sidelines of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai. The process was three years in the making, first launched in November 2015 during PRC President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Singapore. Eight rounds of discussions were held since then in both Singapore and Beijing.

Another agreement that was signed between the two countries on Monday is a framework agreement on cooperation in the Elevated China-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (CSGKC). By elevating it to a state-level bilateral cooperation project, it is an indication that China is placing great significance on it. It is also the first private sector-led project elevated to become a state-level bilateral cooperation project.

The agreement was signed by Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung and Mr Fu. Mr Ong is also the co-chairman of the Singapore-Guangdong Collaboration Council.

Based on the theme “Opening up, Innovation and High-quality Development”, the elevated Guangzhou Knowledge City project will feature a demonstration area for enhanced cooperation in the areas of technology innovation, intellectual property rights, advanced manufacturing and talent development.

Government-linked sustainable urban development and business space solutions provider Ascendas-Singbridge Group on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City Administrative Committee to jointly explore plans to develop this demonstration zone.

The demonstration zone will be situated on a site of approximately two square kilometres adjacent to the current start-up area of CSGKC. Further expansion of the area may be made based on the progress of its development.

Another agreement that was signed between Singapore and China on Monday was an MOU to develop the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor under the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstrative Initiative on Strategic Connectivity (CCI-ILSTC).

The MOU was signed by Mr Chan and Mr Fu, and again witnessed by Prime Minister Lee and PRC Premier Li Keqiang.

Under the MOU, the new trade corridor will incorporate stronger data, digital and financial flows, standardisation of logistics practices and customs cooperation to facilitate trade. It will also lower international logistics cost, catalyse the development of modern industries and services, and provide companies with more options to transport goods.

Through the new trade corridor, Singapore and Chongqing will play the role of mutual hubs in South-east Asia and Western China respectively, providing companies from both sides access to each other’s growing markets.

Formerly known as the CCI-Southern Transport Corridor, it serves as a bridge between the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. It will connect Chongqing to Qinzhou (Beibu Gulf, Guangxi) in the south by rail, and from Qinzhou to Singapore and beyond by sea.