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PM Lee explains new S’pore-EU trade deal & Brexit in BBC 4 radio interview

His explanations can be understood even if you don't know S'pore signed a trade deal with the EU.

Jeanette Tan | October 21, 2018 @ 11:21 am

In case you were too busy with Dee Kosh’s “social experiment” this week, Friday saw a landmark moment for Singapore’s international trade relations (yawn, I know right. But hang in there, you will learn something):

Singapore signed the Singapore-European Union free trade agreement for the first time in both our histories.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry released a video explaining why this is good news for us, and why their civil servants have been working hard the past seven or eight years to iron out all the details to push this through:

But if that’s also too tedious to sit through, PM Lee gave a roughly six-minute interview to BBC 4, a British radio station, to explain the significance of the new free trade agreement.

He also threw in a useful and simple-to-understand analysis of how Singaporeans can view Brexit — the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union.

Singapore-EU Free Trade Agreement 101

Here’s how PM Lee explained what the new agreement involves:

  • “Basically we’ve negotiated an agreement with the EU, and we’ve spent seven, eight years doing it, we’ve finally got here, we’re signing today, and it states commitments and obligations on both sides and that includes Britain as long as it’s in the EU.”
  • What it includes: “…free access to our markets, for example grant government procurement, our Singapore companies will be able to bid for jobs with EU, or European government entities even at the city or local levels”, and
  • Something about cheese: “… protection for geographical indications if you have Edam cheese or Cheshire… They will be protected, you can’t be called Cheshire cheese unless you come from Cheshire, for example, but you have to prove that.”

Brexit from a Singaporean point of view

And he also provided a nifty, pithy response about how Singaporeans can view Brexit:

“I think from an economic point of view, it’s hard to make the argument that (Britain) will be in a superior position outside the EU than in, but I fully understand (it has) other considerations which may outweigh the economic one…

(The) EU is 70 per cent of (Britain’s) trade or something like that and you cannot avoid having very intimate interactions with it if you’re going to live together with them and work with them. And they will certainly influence (Britain) and I think (Britain) will hope to influence them. And whether that’s better done inside the EU in their councils or outside treating them as a foreign party, well, Britain has made a choice.”

PM Lee also threw in his response to the attempt to model Britain after Singapore and how we’ve styled our economic success through our trade partnerships:

“I mean Britain was in that position before it joined the EU, it made that, had that referendum in the 70s and it eventually decided that it would join the EU. Now you’ve changed your mind.

Singapore is in a very different position. We are not on European doorstep, we have very good relations with the EU, we have very deep and considerable trade. But we are on the other side of the world, in Asia, and we also have trade with our region, in Southeast Asia, with China, with the United States, so I don’t know that it’s possible to model Britain on the same basis as Singapore.”

And just like that, we’re all ready to sound intelligent about this topic. Woohoo.

Here’s our transcript of the interview, which you can listen to alongside this from 1:51:50 to 1:57:30:

BBC 4: Good morning.

PM Lee: Good morning, Martha!

BBC 4: How important do you think the deal is that you are signing with the EU for the economic success of Singapore?

PM Lee: Well it’s very important to us and we hope it is something useful to the EU as well. It’s an ambitious trade deal, it’s a high-quality arrangement, and it’s one which will fly the flag and encourage others, I hope, to do the same.

BBC 4: Did it make any difference to you that one of their main economies currently in the EU, i.e. the United Kingdom, won’t be there in the future?

PM Lee: Well, of course we would have hoped that it would have been a bigger EU rather than a smaller one, but we hope we’ll be able to continue arrangements with Britain whether or not it’s inside the EU.

BBC 4: And exactly how will the new deal work?

PM Lee: Well in the first instance, we can do what the trade people call in their jargon a “short form agreement”, which is basically to continue to do with Britain what we have agreed to do with the EU as if you were still inside it, and then we have time to work some better long-term arrangements over time.

BBC 4: Ah, this is the deal you’ve been discussing with Theresa May because you met her?

PM Lee: Yes we’ve talked about these possibilities, I think it can be done.

BBC 4: And just explain to us in a bit more detail about that?

PM Lee: Basically we’ve negotiated an agreement with the EU, and we’ve spent seven, eight years doing it, we’ve finally got here, we’re signing today, and it states commitments and obligations on both sides and that includes Britain as long as it’s in the EU.

BBC 4: And what kinds of obligations are those?

PM Lee: Well, for example free access to our markets, for example grant government procurement, our Singapore companies will be able to bid for jobs with EU, or European government entities even at the city or local levels, for example protection for geographical indications if you have Edam cheese or Cheshire, or… um…

BBC 4: These were called the geographical indicators, yes, yes. Brie. Brie!

PM Lee: That’s right. They will be protected, you can’t be called Cheshire cheese unless you come from Cheshire, for example, but you have to prove that.

BBC 4: Right, so you won’t be competing in the cheese market.

PM Lee: (laughs) We are happy to buy your cheese.

BBC 4: How long do you think this deal going to take?

PM Lee: Which deal?

BBC 4: The deal with the European Union.

PM Lee: Oh, we’re signing it today. The trade part we will have to be ratified by the European parliament, they have to vote, which we hope they will vote next year. The investment protection part, we need all 28 members to ratify country by country and I think even region by region. So that will take awhile but we are actively lobbying all the parties.

BBC 4: And so can this deal, which took obviously well a long time to negotiate, can it be transferred directly to the UK and go through more quickly?

PM Lee: Well we are prepared to transfer it over. I mean if the UK were in the EU it would apply to you straightaway, if you are not and you don’t mind it continue to apply to you, from Singapore’s point of view, we are happy to have it apply to us. Between us and you.

BBC 4: So it could come into force as soon as, say, the transition period is over?

PM Lee: Yes.

BBC 4: What are your thoughts more generally about the fact that the UK is leaving the EU, because you have expressed doubts, haven’t you, in the past?

PM Lee: Well it’s not for us to say, these are tradeoffs which the British voters and British governments have to make. I think from an economic point of view, it’s hard to make the argument that you will be in a superior position outside the EU than in, but I fully understand you have other considerations which may outweigh the economic one.

BBC 4: You have said in the past we think that Brexit weakens the EU, and you’ve said that Britain won’t starve outside it but it’s an enormous market on your doorstep and you can’t avoid doing business with it, and if you can’t influence it you may not have strengthened your influence in the world.

PM Lee: I think that’s true.

BBC 4: In what sense?

PM Lee: Well that’s true, I mean EU is 70 per cent of your trade or something like that and you cannot avoid having very intimate interactions with it if you’re going to live together with them and work with them. And they will certainly influence you and I think you will hope to influence them. And whether that’s better done inside the EU in their councils or outside treating them as a foreign party, well, Britain has made a choice.

BBC 4: But part of that choice and the people who support that idea say that Britain will be stronger when it’s able to look to the rest of the world to countries like Singapore and to forge new economic relationships.

PM Lee: That is possible, that is possible. I mean Britain was in that position before it joined the EU, it made that, had that referendum in the 70s and it eventually decided that it would join the EU. Now you’ve changed your mind.

Singapore is in a very different position. We are not on European doorstep, we have very good relations with the EU, we have very deep and considerable trade. But we are on the other side of the world, in Asia, and we also have trade with our region, in Southeast Asia, with China, with the United States, so I don’t know that it’s possible to model Britain on the same basis as Singapore.

BBC 4: Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore. Thank you.

PM Lee: Thank you.

Top photo via PM Lee’s Facebook page

About Jeanette Tan

Jeanette takes pride in her ability to sing the complete lyrics to "Hakuna Matata" and a host of other Disney songs. She is also enslaved to Katherine and George, her two cats.

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