At a joint press conference with Prime Minister Julia Gillard during his visit to Australia, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed the hope that the outstanding trade issues between the two countries could be settled as a package in the short term.

The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), which has been in force since July 2003, has been reviewed twice – once in March 2009 and the second time in September 2011.

In addition to the existing provisions on trade in goods, services, the movement of business persons, government procurement, intellectual property rights, competition policy, e-commerce and education cooperation, SAFTA’s second review included an investment chapter, to provide greater certainty for Singapore companies operating in Australia, including the right to due process in legal proceedings.

SAFTA reviews have been undertaken to make amendments aimed at ensuring that the agreement remains relevant and beneficial to businesses in both countries, and current outstanding matters are said to include the freedom of air services between the countries and permission for Singaporean business to participate in Australian state procurement.

Singapore is Australia’s largest trade and investment partner in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and its fifth largest trade partner globally, while 2,300 Australian companies use Singapore as a regional base.

Gillard pointed out that the two countries are “working together to further promote trade and investment in the region through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and through the proposed launch later this year of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).”

However, while Gillard emphasized the strengthening of their economic links through the TPP or through the RCEP, “so that we see a reduction in protectionist measures and freer flow of trade and services”, Lee also looked for a further SAFTA review.

On being asked a question concerning SAFTA’s outstanding issues, he hoped it would “not be very long” before they could be resolved. "These items have to be seen as a bundle because you don't deal with them one by one but an overall package which both sides will find palatable and saleable," he added.

October 14, 2012

Source: Tax News