The European Union and Singapore have signed a new trade deal at a summit with Asian leaders this month, taking their political cooperation to a new level.
Three agreements were signed: the EU-Singapore Trade Agreement; the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement; and the Framework Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation, signifying an important step towards the EU having more of a presence in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region.
Singapore is currently the EU's largest partner within the ASEAN bloc, with total bilateral trade in goods worth €53.3 billion in 2017. More than 10,000 EU companies have bases in Singapore from which they serve a range of other nations within the Pacific area.
These new trade agreements will see almost all of the remaining tariffs on certain EU products removed, as well as customs procedures simplified. Trade in goods such as electronics, food products and pharmaceuticals will also be streamlined.
In addition, there is a comprehensive chapter on trade and sustainable development with requirements on safety, environmental protection, climate change and sustainable development.
This is the first bilateral free trade agreement with enhanced market access for Asian food products made in Singapore too, meaning they can enter the EU tariff-free under flexible rules of origin to a total of 1,250 tonnes a year.
The new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement is the fourth deal struck with an ASEAN country in recent times, following prior agreements with Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. It is to supersede the current 1980 Cooperation Agreement between the European Economic Community and member countries of ASEAN.
Going forward, the agreements will be sent to the European Parliament for consent. All being well, they could enter into force before the end of the current mandate of the European Commission in 2019.
EU member states will need to ratify the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and submit it to the European Parliament before it enters formally into force.
Commenting on the historic signing, president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: "The signature of the EU-Singapore agreements is another strong message by like-minded partners to defend and promote an international system that is based on rules, on cooperation, and on multilateralism."
Singapore's business community has also welcomed the news, with Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit calling it a "timely development given the growing international trade tensions".
Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong said both sides have much to learn from and share with each other and added that he hopes the deal will lead to an ASEAN-EU free trade agreement.
He also said he believes Singapore and Britain can do a deal following Brexit, adding that he would be prepared to extend the terms of the EU agreement to incorporate the UK and has already discussed the matter with Theresa May.
So far, British ministers have said they would be eager to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which would bring together what is left of the Trans-Pacific Partnership following America's withdrawal from talks.
"Singapore is not opposed and is in fact supportive," Mr Loong commented.