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Singapore, Australia welcome landmark deal to boost trade, defence ties

Singapore and Australia have concluded a landmark deal covering four major pillars, from trade, innovation and defence to people-to-people ties as well.

Known as the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) between the two countries, it has been in development since its announcement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then-Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year.

In the area of trade and the economy, both countries have agreed for a third update to the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) which was first signed over a decade ago in 2003.

This move seeks to increase trade and investment between the two countries, with Australia being Singapore’s fifth largest trading partner in the world. Bilateral trade between the two sides amounted to amounting to S$20.2 billion last year.

Singapore is also the fifth largest foreign investor in Australia, with investments totalling to S$81.4 billion.

Singapore also currently stands as Australia’s twelfth-largest trading partner.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull cited the need to update the SAFTA, stating that “the business environment has changed considerably since the free trade agreement was first signed.”

Both countries have agreed to adopt economic measures to increase trade and investment flows.

“These measures will reinforce Singapore’s position as a trading and investment partner for Australia. It will also enhance Singapore’s position as a hub for Australian businesses and service providers to access expanding opportunities in Asia,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

The second pillar seeks to boost innovation and entrepreneurship, with the agreement allowing both countries to make use of a S$50million matching fund for a period of five years with the aim to further develop science and innovation. Numerous scientific bodies such as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific will be brought together in collaborations.

Additionally, Singapore will be instrumental in facilitating high-tech Australian start-ups, which will enhance Singapore’s reputation as an international innovation hub and will also provide more opportunities for innovation for local companies.

“I am happy that Australia will establish one of its five “Landing Pads” in Singapore. This creates new possibilities for our creative talent to work together, and harness our energy and capital for mutual benefit,” Mr Lee said.

In their statement, the MFA also noted the “great alignment” in both countries’ policies regarding innovation and anticipated “synergy to be gained from closer cooperation.”

The third pillar in the agreement involves defence and the military. Military and civilian personnel exchanges between both sides will be increased, as will the number of military training areas and facilities in Australia jointly developed with Singapore. These areas will be accessible to Singapore for a period of 25 years.

The agreement also plans to elevate a portion of Exercise Wallaby, Exercise Trident, into a signature joint bilateral military exercise.

The MFA also highlighted intelligence sharing between the two countries, especially in the area of combatting terrorism. Plans were made for a dialogue in late 2016 to look at regional and security issues.

The final pillar aimed to strengthen people-to-people ties through tourism and educational opportunities. Singaporeans will soon be eligible for multi-year visas to enter Australia. Currently, visas expire after one year.

Both countries will also ramp up youth exchanges for Singaporean and Australian youth to do year-long work in each other’s countries. More degrees from Australian universities will also be recognised in Singapore and vice versa.

Juris Doctor (JD) law degrees awarded by ten Australian universities will be recognised here, and JD degrees from Singapore universities will also be recognised by Australia. Postgraduate medical degrees from the University of Queensland and the Australian National University and fifteen allied health qualifications are also now recognised in Singapore.

An Australia-Singapore Arts Group has also been established, as well as a S$5 million fund set up by the MFA and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) for Singapore artists and performers.

“This will increase opportunities for arts and performing groups in Singapore to showcase their works in Australia and work with their Australian counterparts,” said the MFA.

Overall, Mr Lee noted the “win-win deal” that the CSP created for the two “politically like-minded, strategically-aligned and economically complementary” countries. “We will move quickly to implement the various measures, although some will take time to bear fruit,” he said.