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'Time is right' for Asean and the EU to pursue greater integration: Singapore trade minister

THE time is right for Asean and the European Union (EU) to pursue greater region-to-region integration, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang, in his opening remarks at the 16th Asean Economic Ministers - European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner consultations on Friday.

As Singapore assumes the chairmanship of Asean in 2018, it is committed to broaden and deepen Asean's engagement with external partners, he said.

"Strengthening our relationship with the EU is an important agenda for Singapore and for Asean," he said.

This is aligned with the "Global Asean" thrust under the Asean Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2025, under which the region has agreed to build on past gains from external engagements o further integrate Asean into the global economy.

Through the AEC, Asean as a region is now better prepared to engage in deeper trade and investment liberalisation, said Mr Lim.

Asean had kickstarted discussions to lay out a framework for a future Asean-EU free trade agreement (FTA) at their last consultations in 2017, which was warmly welcomed by the business community, said Mr Lim.

"As to be expected in such an endeavour, there are areas of difference that will need to overcome," Mr Lim said.

He added that he looks forward to constructive engagement over the course of consultations on Friday on ways to deepen Asean-EU economic integration, and to help pave the way towards the eventual resumption of negotiations for an Asean-EU FTA.