OPP Meeting Summary: EP INTA Committee – First exchange of views on EU –Singapore FTA (4 December 2017)

A summary of the committee’s debate is now available.

EP INTA Committee – 4 December 2017
First exchange of views on EU –Singapore FTA

Bernd Lange (S&D, DE) made the following opening remarks

  • the agreement was agreed a long time ago. The CJEU had to subsequently take decisions on the EU and mixed competences. On 16 May, the Court delivered its judgement. It clarified which competences belong to which institution. Only portfolio investment and dispute settlement (with no clear obligation to use domestic remedies) formed part of the mixed agreement. This meant that agreements had to be split;
  • he wanted to discuss the content of the agreement, and leave the competence question aside.

Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State, Ministry for Trade and Industry, Singapore made the following remarks

  • governments had to address the recent changes in the world, globalisation and protectionism;
  • the government was a proponent of rules-based trade and the rule of law;
  • the supported the WTO, the Paris Agreement, and the SDGs;
  • Singapore had roots as a trading port dating far back. It was a strategic location in the middle of oceans. Their trade volume was 3.5 times their GDP and they had a number of trade agreements;
  • they welcomed the EU’s revitalised trade agenda and wanted to partner with the EU on this agenda;
  • the EU-Singapore FTA was the building block for an eventual agreement with ASEAN, which Singapore would welcome;
  • trade and investment must complement sustainable development and protect the vulnerable. Thus, the EU-S FTA contained a robust chapter on sustainability, corporate responsibility, and the sustainable management of natural resources;
  • the EU was the largest trade and investment partner of Singapore;
  • Singapore’s focus areas include trade facilitation, e-commerce and the digital economy;
  • Singapore wanted to cooperate in strengthening the international system of dispute settlement. Its primary interest was the expeditious ratification of the US FTA.

Interventions from MEPs followed

David Martin (S&D, UK), Standing Rapporteur for Singapore

  • he thanked the Minister for being there;
  • he wanted to say that today’s discussion did not mean that the ratification process had begun. The Commission had proposed two agreements, but the actual split was to be finalised by the member states (‘MS’);
  • he thanked Singpore for his patience and flexibility;
  • it was a small country, but it was after France and the US the biggest market for Scottish whiskey;
  • he noted some benefits of the agreement:
    • it would eliminate tariffs on all qualifying goods;
    • it eliminated barriers to trade and services, particularly in the transport and the telecommunications sector. There was a positive list for services;
    • the EU’s GIs would be protected;
    • ISDS had been replaced by the Investment Court System;
    • the TSD chapter was robust. He had to note that Singapore only had ratified 5 of 8 core ILO conventions. He urged for progress before the ratification.

Artis Pabriks (EPP, LV)

  • Singapore had been a reliable partner;
  • he apologised for the delay from the European Union, but it was difficult to coordinate 28 countries;
  • the EPP stood firmly behind this agreement.

Emma McClarkin (ECR, UK)

  • she thanked the Minister for his patience with the EU. He had always been championing this agreement;
  • the message was that the EU wanted to ratify this deal, and as soon as possible;
  • the ECR strongly objected to any attempts to reopen the agreement;
  • she wondered about the reception in Singapore if there were any further delays;
  • she asked the Commission what it was doing to promote the agreement among MS and businesses.

Anne-Marie Mineur (GUE/NGL, NL)

  • there was no impact assessment, only the 2009 ASEAN impact assessment was available. She urged for one. In June 2009, the EU had just started to recover from the economic crisis;
  • she wanted to have more information on the impact the agreement would have on the EU’s financial stability, and the financial services sector, as well as the legislation underpinning these areas;
  • she wondered whether there should be basic principles to protect the investment.

Jude Kirton-Darling (S&D, UK)

  • Singapore had been “mucked about” by the EU in the run-up to this agreement;
  • some elements had to be addressed, such as labour rights and the ratification of ILO conventions, esp. Convention 87 (on the freedom of association);
  • she wanted to know if Singapore was willing to engage in a dialogue how the principles enshrined in the TSD chapter could be applied in practice;
  • she was worried because there were requests from the ILO on the application of labour standards which were left unanswered by Singapore.

Inmaculada Rodríguez-Piñero Fernández (S&D, ES)

  • she wanted to know why Singapore, with a high human development index and strong prosperity, had not signed the ILO conventions, and which commitments it would give that it would sign them.

Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State, Ministry for Trade and Industry, Singapore replied to the round of questions

  • she wanted to share Singapore’s approach to labour protection. It was called tripartism, which referred to a close relationship between workers represented by labour unions, employers and the government. The tripartism ran through decision-making. There were tripartite committees to deliberate on wages, boosting employability of women and older workers. All laws and regulations which had an economy were preceded by tripartite consultations. It was expected of all MPs to work closely with the Unions and advise them;
  • the close collaboration helped shave positive outcome for workers. The unemployment level was low, and they could push for increase in median wages;
  • Singapore worked closely with the ILO and they wanted to comply with the spirit and the letter of the convention;
  • they were constantly working on aligning their laws to the Conventions, and to engage in dialogues, as well as to explain how tripartism boosts worker’s well-being in Singapore.

Mr Peter Bertz, DG Trade, European Commission made the following remarks

  • these were the first negotiations to be concluded with an ASEAN country;
  • it consolidated the EU’s presence in the region;
  • it was the most comprehensive agreement the EU had concluded with an Asian country;
  • the agreement incorporates the EU’s new approach to investment protection and dispute settlement;
  • they shared the Committee’s hope for an early entry into force;
  • they were finalising the text and the translation and continued discussions with the MS and the EP on the future architecture of agreements;
  • preparations on implementation requirements, and an outreach campaign were well underway.

David Martin (S&D, UK), Standing Rapporteur for Singapore made the following closing remarks

  • no one was suggesting to reopen the negotiations;
  • they were happy with the TSD chapter, but even with Canada, the EP was insistent to sign up to the relevant conventions they had not signed up for. They hoped for Singapore to signal a move towards ratifying the remaining three conventions;
  • Singapore was committed to the rule of law;
  • he hoped the MS would “get a move on” and send two agreements to the EP.

Source: One Policy Place

The simultaneous interpretation of debates provided by the European Parliament serves only to facilitate communication amongst the participants in the meeting. It does not constitute an authentic record of proceedings. One Policy Place uses these translations so this text is only a guide and should not be relied on as an official account of the meeting. Only the original speech or the revised written translation of that speech is authentic.

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