'More time needed' for EU-S'pore trade pact

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Mr Lee was mobbed by young Singaporeans trying to take selfies with him at last Saturday's Singapore Day event in London's Victoria Park.

LONDON - The European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will likely take longer than this year to be ratified, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In several meetings with leaders such as the Dutch, British and Luxembourg prime ministers during his visit to Europe last week, Mr Lee received their support for the trade pact that will benefit all 28 EU member countries and Singapore.

"There is a process to go through, and the European Parliament, and the countries, will need time to deliberate on this," he said.

Singapore had hoped to clear this hurdle soon, but may have to wait until after European Parliament elections in May before collecting the 28 ratifications. And Singapore is "very systematically going country by country to lobby for their support, and explain why this is a good deal for them", said Mr Lee.

The pact's text was initialled last September, and it has been described as a state-of-the art FTA that is adapted to modern service-driven economies. It covers tariff-free access for goods, reinforced intellectual property protection, technical barriers to trade and government procurement.

It will be the EU's first with an ASEAN country. The EU is Singapore's third-largest trading partner, after China and Malaysia. Bilateral trade has grown more than 60 per cent in the last decade, and the FTA will reap billions in trade over the next decade, according to analysts.

Noting the pact's scope, from fair competition to cheaper food "with special names", like Parma ham, Mr Lee said: "The governments we have lobbied have all expressed warm and strong support, and we look forward to doing this as soon as we can."

During his talks with European leaders, Mr Lee also expressed Singapore's keenness to pursue an open skies agreement with the EU.

This will bring the two regions closer together, he said.

zuraidah@sph.com.sg

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