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Stalled upgrade to Singapore free trade deal

Stalled upgrade to Singapore free trade deal finally confirmed

By Pattrick Smellie

Nov. 15 (BusinessDesk) - Strained relations between New Zealand and Singapore appear to be mending with the announcement that a stalled upgrade to a free trade agreement between the two countries is going ahead.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced completion of the upgrade on the margins of the East Asian Summit Meeting, which she is attending in Singapore before flying on to Papua New Guinea for the annual APEC Leaders' Meeting.

The Singaporean government was enraged last year when the New Zealand government announced restrictions on foreign real estate purchases without consulting Singapore, which should have been excluded from such a ban because of the terms of the existing FTA.

Relations went cold for months as Singapore sought to make clear its displeasure that one of its closest small country friends in the Asia-Pacific region had acted unilaterally against not only Singapore's interests, but also the letter of an existing trade agreement.

Efforts to find a way through the impasse saw Trade Minister David Parker announce a relaxation in June of the ban on would-be Singaporean investors in restricted New Zealand property.

Singapore is among New Zealand’s top seven trading partners, with $4.9 billion of two-way trade and $5.1 billion of two-way direct investment in the year ending June 2018, Ardern noted in her statement today.

Modernisation of the Closer Economic Partnership or CEP agreement "smooths the way for New Zealand companies to explore further export opportunities in the city-state", she said. The announcement came as Ardern continued to argue New Zealand's commitment to a liberalised, rules-based global trading system at a time when such globalisation initiatives are seen to be struggling.

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Hopes that this week's summit of Asian leaders in Singapore might help nudge progress on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership FTA, involving China, India, ASEAN countries and New Zealand and Australia, proved unfounded.

New Zealand visitors to Singapore will gain visa-free entry for three months – up from the current one month – and companies with offices in Singapore will be able to send employees to work there for up to eight years, up from five years.

“New Zealand’s relationship with Singapore is our closest in South East Asia," said Ardern. "As small advanced economies, we share an interest in maintaining international trade rules. As such our shared commitment to upgrading our free trade agreement is more important than ever."

The upgrade was "the first step towards the launch of a broader Enhanced Partnership with Singapore that will be launched next year," she said. "It will see even greater co-operation between our two countries across trade, science, innovation, the environment, education, the arts, security and defence."

The original CEP was signed in 2000.


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