EU, Singapore agree on free-trade deal

The European Union said Sunday it had completed final negotiations on a free-trade deal with Singapore, the bloc's 13th-largest trading partner and home to more than 8,000 EU companies.

The agreement, which still needs to be ratified, was completed by EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht and Singapore Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, the European Commission said in a statement.

Singapore is the EU's largest trading partner in the Southeast Asia region, accounting for 74 billion euros ($97 billion) of trade in goods and services.

EU-Singapore trade in goods grew by 40 percent between 2009 and 2011, the statement said.

The free-trade agreement is the second between the EU and an Asian country, after an accord with South Korea that came into effect in July 2011, and the first with one of the 10 countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"Singapore is a dynamic market for EU companies and is a vital hub for doing business across Southeast Asia," De Gucht said in the statement.

According to the Commission, the agreement would create new opportunities in many areas including banking, insurance and other financial services industries, as well as in public tendering.

The agreement would also make it easier to export European agricultural and industrial products and cut down on red tape.

For example, Singapore would accept the import of European-manufactured cars based on EU technical and safety standards and approvals, the Commission said.

Additionally, "the principles of sustainable development in trade will be enshrined in the (agreement), so as to ensure that trade supports environmental protection and social development, and does not come at the expense of the environment or of labour rights," the Commission said.

The EU and Singapore hope to ink the draft deal in the spring of 2013.

Free-trade talks are already under way between the EU and Malaysia and Vietnam. The ultimate goal is a region-to-region agreement between the EU and the ASEAN area, Brussels said.

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