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Openness, connectivity remain key to success: Chan Chun Sing

In his first speech as trade minister, he expresses hope for an eventual trade pact between the EU and Asean

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Mr Chan said the current backdrop of protectionist measures gives a push to complete ratifying the EU-Singapore FTA, and then the EU-Asean one.

Singapore

IN his first public speech as Minister for Trade and Industry, former labour chief Chan Chun Sing stressed Singapore's commitment to free trade and connectivity, highlighted its pro-business stance and openness to talent, and reiterated the hope for an eventual trade pact between the European Union (EU) and Asean.

Mr Chan, who took over the portfolio on Tuesday, was speaking at Friday's Europe Day luncheon held by the European Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

Noting that Europe Day commemorates the 1950 Schuman Declaration - a key step towards the EU's predecessor, the European Community - he said it was timely to be marking this, amid protectionist and anti-globalisation sentiment across the world, and rising trade tensions.

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"Amid this challenging environment for global trade, we are pleased to note that the EU remains a staunch proponent for free trade."

As a small and open economy, Singapore is heavily dependent on the free flow of goods, services and investments. And, like the EU, it is a firm believer in a rules-based multilateral trading system, said Mr Chan.

He highlighted Singapore's pursuit of greater connectivity. This includes trade pacts such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership signed in March, which Singapore hopes can be ratified before the end of the year.

But Singapore also has excellent connectivity as a major air and sea hub, and is going even further, he added: "To continue remaining relevant and competitive in an increasingly connected world, we will have to work on new dimensions of connectivity, and these include data, finance, talent and technology."

Addressing some 150 government officials and business leaders, he underscored Singapore's commitment to remaining a conducive place for doing business.

"Our pro-business policies, sound legal and regulatory system, and robust intellectual property protections provide certainty to businesses and foster innovation.

"These are important attributes of our competitiveness, which we take very seriously."

Talent will also be "an increasingly important part of the economic equation", as Singapore transforms into an innovation-driven economy.

Even while focusing on skills and building a strong Singaporean core, the country must continue to remain open to foreign talent, he added.

With Singapore serving as Asean chair this year, it is taking the opportunity to deepen regional connectivity. "It is our hope that Asean can build new linkages to strengthen our connectivity to a like-minded partner such as the EU," he said.

He noted that Asean is already the EU's third-largest trading partner outside Europe, with Singapore accounting for about a third of the EU's total trade with Asean. It is Singapore's hope that the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) can be "a pathfinder" towards an eventual EU-Asean FTA.

The minister welcomed last month's news that EUSFTA ratification is moving forward, and said Singapore hopes for its early implementation.

Against today's backdrop of protectionist measures, "there is another added significance for us to quickly complete this ratification process," he added.

"This will not just be a bilateral free-trade agreement between the EU and Singapore. It will send an important and powerful signal to the entire global trading community of the EU and Singapore's stand on free-trade agreements, economic integration and economic partnership."