Tuesday 25 June 2019

Singapore may renegotiate EU trade deal after Brexit removes British markets

The headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) (R) is seen next to the famous skyline in Frankfurt. Photo: Reuters
The headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) (R) is seen next to the famous skyline in Frankfurt. Photo: Reuters

Ben Woods

Singapore has raised the prospect of renegotiating terms on a long-awaited free trade deal with the European Union (EU) due to the impact of Brexit, a Square Mile official has revealed.

Sherry Madera, the City of London Corporation's special adviser for Asia, told the Press Association questions have been asked at meetings in Singapore about the nation's right to a "remedy" if access to UK financial markets no longer form part of the deal.

The EU and Singapore completed their negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) back in 2015, but the deal is still awaiting the backing of the European Parliament and member states.

Any move to revisit the terms may encourage other countries to demand revisions on FTAs in order to reflect Britain's exit from the bloc.

Ms Madera said: "For Singapore, the UK is quite a significant partner considering the economies are very similar in terms of services and financial services.

"They are big strengths for both the UK and Singapore.

"When the UK is no longer part of those deals, does Singapore or other countries that have negotiated with the EU have a right for some sort of remedy?

"Is there a rethinking of those free trade agreements upon the demands of the third party to the EU?

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"That point was being made quite clearly to me across various corners of industry.

"When you look at the existing free trade agreements with the EU, it makes you wonder whether there are other countries thinking similarly."

Talks began on the Singapore-EU free trade deal (EUSFTA) in 2009 and concluded six years later, but the agreement has yet to kick into gear after becoming the subject of a legal case at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

A judge at Europe's top court ruled in May that EU member states must sign off the deal because of issues linked to investment within the agreement.

UK officials had been keeping a close eye on the case as the outcome had the potential to force a post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal to face country-by-country approval.

It is feared that such a move could lead to a repeat performance of the FTA struck between Europe and Canada, which came close to collapse after a regional Belgium parliament refused to back the treaty.

However, the UK's hope of securing quick FTA with the EU was handed a boost after the ECJ said the EU would not need a trade deal ratification by member states on key areas such as financial services.

The EU has 38 FTAs in place and is eyeing further tie-ups with the likes of India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

In a statement, Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry said: "The EU is Singapore's key economic partner. Singapore is also the EU's largest trading partner in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

"Our bilateral relations with the EU are robust, multi-faceted, and longstanding.

"The European Court of Justice ruling on 16 May 2017 paves the way forward for the ratification of the EUSFTA in the EU.

"Our priority remains to have the agreement enter into force as early as possible and we are working closely with the European Commission to ratify the agreement expeditiously."

A spokesman for the European Commission said: "The Article 50 negotiations with the UK are ongoing and the Commission cannot at this point speculate on matters relating to the future relationship between the UK and the EU 27."

Press Association

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