Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Singapore and the EU fly the flag of free trade

At odds with US trade policy, Singapore and the European Union champion multilateralism with an eye toward a broader deal with Southeast Asian economies

Amid rising trade tensions between the two largest economies, the Asia-Europe Meeting Summit (ASEM) in Brussels last week saw leaders from both regions fly the so-called flag of free trade. Though there was no explicit mention of American trade policies in the meeting’s joint declaration, the spectre of unilateralism seemed to loom large over the proceedings.

It was here that Singapore and the European Union (EU) signed a landmark trade deal reputed to serve as the building blocks for a wider future trade pact with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). While sought for years, a trade deal linking the two regional organisations is still in the early stages of negotiations.

Negotiated for the better part of a decade, the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) is a bid to improve business ties with the wealthy city-state, the EU’s top trading partner in Southeast Asia. The agreement, expected to come into force next year, has been touted as a boost for Singapore’s companies and their exports.

The deal also held symbolic importance, with Singapore’s Prime Minister Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong framing the effort as a bid to shore up a multilateral system that has come under severe stress, owing to certain countries resorting to protectionist unilateral actions and even explicitly repudiating multilateral approaches and institutions.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.