Singapore, China reiterate commitment to free and open tradeSingapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat was joined by 13 other political office holders at a virtual press conference held after the 17th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting. (Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information)

SINGAPORE— Singapore and China on Wednesday (Dec 29) reiterated their commitment to free and open trade at an annual top-level bilateral meeting.

The 17th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting is the highest-level annual forum between China and Singapore.

Held virtually for the second year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it was co-chaired by Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng. A substantial number of 14 pacts ranging from finance to trade, sustainability and nature conservation were signed this year.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said both sides also look forward to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will enter into force on Jan 1, 2022.

The RCEP is the world’s largest trade pact, with the aim of lowering tariffs, opening up trade and promoting investments to help emerging economies catch up. It was first proposed in 2012 and signed last year by 15 Asia-Pacific nations, including Singapore and China.

Both Singapore and China have ratified the RCEP agreement.

PMO’s statement also noted that Mr Heng welcomed China’s application to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), in accordance with the CPTPP’s rules and procedures.

He also welcomed China’s bid to join the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA), which Singapore has with Chile and New Zealand, the statement read.

The DEPA, as its name suggests, establishes new approaches and collaborations in digital trade issues, while addressing the new issues brought about by digitalisation. Singapore also has a digital economy agreement with Australia, and recently concluded negotiations on this front with South Koreaand United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, both countries also pledged to achieve high standards of trade and investment liberalisation through the upgrading of the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, PMO said.

Negotiations on this are ongoing and “good progress” has been made, said Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong at a virtual press conference held after the JCBC meeting.

“Notably, China and Singapore have agreed to include a new telecommunication services chapter that would provide a more enabling regulatory environment for Singapore companies entering and operating in the Chinese telecommunications markets,” he said.

“Thus far, both sides have concluded three rounds of negotiations and have made good progress in concluding the investment, services and telecommunications chapters.”

Mr Gan also pointed out supply chain resilience as an area where Singapore and China can strengthen bilateral cooperation.

He noted how Singapore had worked with relevant Chinese authorities last year to add seven new fishery establishments to the approved list for export of aquatic products to China.

At the meeting with his Chinese counterparts on Wednesday, Mr Gan said he had suggested establishing a forward inspection hub in Singapore so as to shorten the time needed to inspect and clear food products in Chinese ports.

“This would facilitate better access to the Chinese market for Singapore companies, as well as food producers in the region,” the minister said.

Both sides also discussed how Singapore companies have contributed to China’s evolving developmental priorities through bilateral projects and the eight provincial business councils.

“In line with China’s priorities under its New Development Paradigm, Singapore companies can look forward to more opportunities in innovation and sustainability,” Mr Gan said.

More collaborative efforts are also under way at the Suzhou Industrial Park, the first government-to-government project between the two countries.

Mr Gan pointed to the launch of new initiatives enabling cross-border services and investments this year, such as the SIP International Business Cooperation Centre (Singapore) located at one-north.

This has since welcomed several Chinese firms such as Copper-Joint, an original equipment manufacturer supplying components to wind power firms, and AlphaESS, an energy storage solution provider.

“I hope to see more Chinese companies explore commercial partnerships with Singapore firms, jointly develop innovative products, and expand their network in the region,” the minister said.

Authorities will also continue to facilitate the entry of Singapore’s biomedical companies into China through the SIP. For one, the A*STAR Partners’ Centre @ SIP has supported 15 Singapore start-ups seeking to expand into China since its launch in November last year.

“As Singapore and China press on with post-pandemic economic recovery, we will continue to work closely to support our businesses, promote innovation and deliver high-quality growth for our economies,” Mr Gan said.