European Union flags are seen outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels in this October 27, 2010, file photo.
European Union flags are seen outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels in this October 27, 2010, file photo.
BRUSSELS - The European Union and Singapore submitted for approval on Friday one of the world's most comprehensive free trade agreements. For the EU, the agreement is seen as a stepping stone towards a wider deal with southeast Asia.
The chief negotiators on both sides presented the entire text of the agreement on Friday after initialling each page of the roughly 1,000-page document.
Subject to approval in Singapore, the 28 EU member states and the European Parliament, the agreement should come into force in late 2014 or early 2015.
Trade between the two topped 52 billion euros in goods in 2012 and 28 billion euros in services in 2011. Meanwhile, mutual investment has reached 190 billion euros.
The European Union sees a free trade deal as opening the door to a deal with other members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has set a goal of economic integration by 2015.
The EU and ASEAN launched free trade talks in 2007, but abandoned them two years later as the EU chose to instead conduct bilateral talks with individual members.
The European Commission is already negotiating free trade accords with Malaysia and Vietnam, and launched talks with Thailand in March.
Singapore has a population of just 5 million people, against some 600 million for the whole of ASEAN, but accounts for about a third of all EU-ASEAN trade and more than 60 percent of all investment between the two regions.
The deal goes beyond many other free trade accords in its commitment to opening up public procurement, an area where the EU has many leading suppliers. The FTA also included agreements on technical standards in areas such as motor vehicles, electronics and green technologies.
The European Union gained better protection of “geographical indications,” for region-specific products such as Parma ham or champagne.
EU tariffs on virtually all items from Singapore will disappear over five years. Singapore has committed to its existing policy of zero tariffs on EU imports.
Singapore is likely to benefit from reduced tariffs for pharmaceutical and petrochemical products.
In services, particularly financial services, the agreement will ensure the right to sell directly or establish branches in each other's markets and promises to provide greater transparency over the award of licences.