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China, Singapore to sign upgraded trade deal this year

China, Singapore to sign upgraded trade deal this year

Singapore and China will put pen to paper on an upgraded free trade agreement before the end of 2018, ending speculation about when exactly they will strike a new deal after three years of talks.

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By Jackson Lewis 21.09.2018

Singapore and China will put pen to paper on an upgraded free trade agreement before the end of 2018, ending speculation about when exactly they will strike a new deal after three years of talks.

Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, Teo Chee Hean, announced the upcoming trade pact at the 14th Joint Council Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting on Thursday. The deal develops on the initial framework that came into force almost a decade ago and will give Singapore’s business sector a boost, as it will soon have access to stronger investor protection and enhanced trade in China.

Teo said that the new deal should be ready in time for the 33rd ASEAN Summit in November when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will be in Singapore. The latest news suggests that the two countries are eager to forge even closer ties following their initial pact from 2009. Singapore has been the leading foreign investor in China for five years and was the first country in Asia to rubber-stamp a comprehensive bilateral free trade agreement with the world’s second-largest economy.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been criticized in recent days for its failure to support local workers in host countries where it invests, but BRI was at the top of the agenda in the meeting this week. This shows that the infrastructure project will play a key role in Singapore-China collaborations in the coming months and years.

The long-term deal has support from Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng, who said that China is eager to work with Singapore to achieve its goals for some time to come. He pointed to the BRI project as a “major opportunity” for developing relations between the two countries.

The JCBC meeting saw a number of firsts, including Han’s debut as the session’s co-chair. Teo spoke of his solid rapport with Han despite their brief time together. Both leading officials said that they are eager to strengthen relations for the benefit of the two countries.

"China has just had its 19th Party Congress and Two Sessions, so they have a new leadership in position,” Teo said. “We are also transitioning our leadership in Singapore, and it [JCBC] provides the leadership on both sides to get to know each other and work together on substantive projects. This will take our relationship on a solid footing, into the future.”

The JCBC meeting also saw seven new deals established on bilateral cooperation in areas such as the arts, research and development and intellectual property. For example, a new memorandum of understanding between the National Arts Council (NAC) and China National Funds will drive greater collaboration and the development of work to appeal to audiences in Singapore and China.

"We hope to share Singapore's multilingual and multicultural approach to artistic expression with China artists and audiences," NAC CEO Rosa Daniel said. "This is also an added opportunity for our artists to build critical networks and deepen their artistic practice through skills exchange with the Chinese such as residencies, workshops and masterclasses."

Meanwhile, the Suzhou Municipal People’s Government and the Ministry of Trade and Industry signed an important agreement to boost personal skills and deepen exchanges through the training and sharing of experiences.

The other deals include plans to improve cooperation in a range of industries, including nanotech, advanced manufacturing and biomedicine and the creation of a new research institute for the National University of Singapore (NUS) in Chongqing. Professor Ho Teck Hua said that the latter will “serve as an important gateway for NUS to extend our reach in the Western region of China."

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