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Singapore, China deepen ties with upgraded FTA, other pacts

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Mr Li inspecting an honour guard with Mr Lee before an official dinner for the Chinese leader and his delegation.

Singapore

SINGAPORE and China deepened bilateral relations further on Monday with several 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 Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and China's International Trade Representative and Vice Minister of Commerce Fu Ziying.

This was among the various agreements witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, on the sidelines of Mr Li's official visit to Singapore, in conjunction with his participation at this week's Asean Summit meetings.

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The signing ceremony took place before an official dinner hosted by Mr Lee for the Chinese leader and his delegation.

The upgraded free trade 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 and commitments in new areas such as e-commerce, competition, and the environment. It will take effect after both countries ratify 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".

The conclusion of the CSFTA upgrade talks was first announced on Nov 5 on the sidelines of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai.

First launched in 2015 during Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Singapore, the process was three years in the making. 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 Education Minister 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.

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

The zone will be situated on a 2km site adjacent to the current start-up area of CSGKC. Further expansion of the area may be made based on the progress of its development.

The framework agreement will also see the establishment of a two-tiered reporting mechanism to guide the development of the project. It will consist of a Joint Working Committee co-chaired by ministerial-level representatives and a Joint Implementation Committee co-chaired by vice-ministerial representatives.

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

Under this deal, 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 Southeast Asia and Western China respectively, providing companies from both sides access to each other's growing markets.

It will serve as a bridge between the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, connecting Chongqing to Qinzhou (Beibu Gulf, Guangxi) in the south by rail, and from Qinzhou to Singapore and beyond by sea. This will enhance connectivity between Western China, Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.

China is Singapore's largest trading partner while Singapore is China's largest foreign investor since 2013. In 2017, total bilateral trade between Singapore and China reached S$137.1 billion.