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Ratification of EU-Singapore FTA would encourage EU-Asean trade deal: PM Lee

A RATIFICATION of the free trade agreement (FTA) between Singapore and the European Union (EU) would signal that the EU is "open for business", and encourage an Asean-EU FTA deal, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.

"For the EU, it's a signal that you are open for business, and whatever your domestic issues and preoccupations, you do want to continue to deepen and strengthen the links which you have with the Far East, with a rapidly growing part of the world," said Mr Lee, who addressed the press together with UK Prime Minister David Cameron at the Istana.

"And Singapore is the bellwether. If you can do one with Singapore, I think that will encourage other deals to come in, including the Asean-EU deal," he told reporters.

Singapore is the EU's largest commercial partner in Asean: trade between the two partners accounted for about one-third of Asean-EU trade in goods and services. Negotiations for the EU-Singapore FTA ended last year, and the deal is now awaiting ratification by the European Parliament.

An Asean-EU FTA is worth pushing for, said Mr Lee, even as he cautioned that a deal would be difficult. "It's not easy to negotiate an FTA between 10 countries on one side, and 28 countries on the other side, because there are many cross-linkages to be preoccupied with."

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But such an FTA would diversify Europe's engagement with Asia beyond the major economies of China and India, said Mr Lee. South-east Asia is also rich in resources, and its growth will be powered by a rising middle class.

"It's not going to be easy to do, but it is something which we think is worth pushing," said Mr Lee.

Negotiations for an Asean-EU FTA were launched in 2007, but were stalled two years later.

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