1) The Australian Minister for Trade, the Hon Mark Vaile, and the Singapore Minister of Trade and Industry, BG (NS) George Yeo met in Sydney on 14 July 2004 to launch the first review of the Singapore Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).
2) The entry into force of SAFTA on 28 July 2003 marked a new and exciting chapter in trade and economic relations between Australia and Singapore. SAFTA sets a new benchmark for closer economic integration between Australia and Singapore. The scope for commercial cooperation between the business sectors, not only in Australia and Singapore but also in third-country markets in South-East Asia, has been further enhanced through SAFTA. At the first review, Ministers expressed their ongoing commitment to further integration through regular review and expansion of SAFTA over time.
3) The Ministers agreed that the first review of SAFTA provided an opportunity for Australia and Singapore to consider jointly the implementation and outcomes of the agreement one year on, and to examine how it may be further enhanced to promote improved trade and investment opportunities to mutual benefit. It brought officials together to commence work on the modification of Australia's schedules of reservations in accordance with the relevant provisions of the SAFTA chapters on trade in services and investment (chapters 7 and 8), to extend the coverage of the key obligations under these chapters to the Australian States and Territories. Officials would also be working on the incorporation into SAFTA of improved conditions for legal joint ventures and the lifting of the quota on wholesale banking licenses in accordance with understandings that Singapore would extend to Australia treatment in these areas no less favourable than that provided to the United States.
4) The Ministers welcomed the completion of negotiations of two Annexes to SAFTA's chapter 5: Technical Regulations and Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. They noted that the Horticulture Goods Annex would facilitate Singapore's exports of orchids and foliage to Australia while the Food Annex would provide procedures whereby a party may recognise the other party's standards and compliance procedures as equivalent to their own. The Ministers agreed to improve access under SAFTA which involved Australia adding four entities to the list of agencies covered by the Government Procurement chapter (chapter 6) of SAFTA, and Singapore offered to recognise law degrees from the University of Tasmania and Murdoch University based on geographical consideration. The Ministers agreed to revise the arrangements concerning Certificates of Origin for Singapore exports to Australia to further streamline processes for business. They noted that these arrangements would be subject to the treaty and legislative amendment processes in Australia before they can come into effect.
5) The Ministers welcomed the introduction on 1 July 2004 of amendments to the Singapore Patents Act. They noted that IP Australia and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) are currently negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the provision of patent examination services, to supplement that signed in 1995. Under the new MOU, IP Australia will provide a broader range of patent examination services to IPOS. The MOU will further strengthen cooperation between Australia and Singapore in the area of patent search and examination. The Ministers reiterated both countries' strong commitment to the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.
6) The Ministers endorsed a forward work program to maintain the pace of integration of the Australian and Singaporean economies. Issues to be considered in the forward work program include, among other things, ongoing cooperation in the areas of e-commerce and telecommunications; regulatory reforms covering competition, education, industry and other government policies; improvement to the rules in SAFTA, particularly in the investment chapter and in relation to the rules of origin; commitments under the government procurement chapter; and ways to promote closer business links through SAFTA.
7) The Ministers noted that, notwithstanding the relatively short period since the entry into force of SAFTA, business from both sides has noticed improved conditions of access provided by the agreement. Australian business has enjoyed a more open and predictable environment across a range of sectors in Singapore. In this context, Australia also welcomes Singapore's plan to introduce a competition law and establish the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS). This will further promote competition and improve transparency. Australia particularly congratulates Singapore on its efforts to introduce prohibitions on cartel conduct and abuse of dominant position which are especially important in the context of Singapore's open economy.
8) The more open and predictable business environment in Singapore has encouraged a number of new Australian exporters to enter the Singapore market in the past 12 months and established exporters to expand their operations in Singapore. For example, Macquarie Corporate Telecommunications (MCT), an Australian telecommunications firm, is seeking to become a main player in the corporate telecommunications sector in Singapore and in the region through its expansion plan. Through its acquisition of the former Singapore Public Works Department, Downer-EDI, Australia's second largest listed engineering services firm, has become increasingly active in Singapore and has been successful in developing new business in Asia from its Singapore base. The University of New South Wales (UNSW) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Economic Development Board of Singapore to establish a campus in Singapore to provide undergraduate and post-graduate teaching and research.
9) Singapore's home-grown companies have also benefited from the increased trade opportunities brought on by the SAFTA. For example, GN Packaging Industries Pte Ltd, a manufacturer specialising in producing plastic packaging materials such as Polyolefin Shrink film, obtained more sourcing opportunities from interested Australian clients due to the tariff savings created by Australia's removal of tariffs on its products. Eng Leong Medallic Industries Pte Ltd, a manufacturer of medals, trophies and plaques, has delighted customers in Australia who enjoy savings in tariffs while Fabristeel Pte Ltd, a maker of commercial kitchen equipment, has leveraged on SAFTA to open up new opportunities in Australia.
10) Australian and Singaporean professional associations are seeking to negotiate mutual recognition agreements of qualifications and registration procedures. CPA Australia and the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore (ICPAS) are the first professional institutions to have signed an MRA under the SAFTA framework. The Ministers noted that for architects, pharmacists, engineers, pharmacists and dentists, there is either mutual interest or interest from one country to seek recognition of qualifications and registration in the each other's country. The Ministers encouraged the relevant professional bodies to initiate and conclude the discussions as soon as possible. The Ministers noted that these developments would help broaden business and people-to-people links between Australia and Singapore, and that they underlined the existing strong and productive bilateral trade and economic relations between our two countries.
11) The Ministers noted that substantial progress towards an open skies air services agreement had been made with the settlement of expanded air services arrangements in Singapore in September 2003. The arrangements also provide for work to continue towards the conclusion of an open skies agreement, which includes trans-Pacific rights, when there is greater stability in the global aviation environment. The Ministers considered that an open skies agreement would not only facilitate the growth of trade, tourism, investment and other links between Singapore and Australia, but also be a step forward in our bilateral relations. There would be consumer benefits as enhanced air services have multiplier effects on the overall economy, and more opportunities for airlines of both countries.
12) The Ministers agreed that the SAFTA review was an essential process in ensuring that the agreement remains relevant for business as bilateral trade and investment evolves. They instructed officials to meet within six months of this Ministerial review meeting to consider progress on key issues raised at the Ministerial review meeting. They also agreed Ministers would meet again within two years to further review SAFTA.
13) The Ministers agreed that both Australia and Singapore should continue to work closely to further deepen their bilateral economic partnership, both at the bilateral and multilateral levels. They also agreed to cooperate regionally to promote increased economic integration including through examining a free trade agreement between ASEAN and CER, and to continue to work together in APEC to build a more secure and prosperous region. The Ministers also noted that the SAFTA Review reflected both the commitment of Singapore and Australia to trade liberalisation and the need to do so in a way consistent with the multilateral trading system.