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Pact takes S’pore-Australia ties to new level

SINGAPORE — With Australia and Singapore already enjoying deep and strong ties, bilateral ties were taken to greater heights today (June 29) when the two nations signed a comprehensive strategic partnership — the first inked between Singapore and another country.

SINGAPORE — With Australia and Singapore already enjoying deep and strong ties, bilateral ties were taken to greater heights today (June 29) when the two nations signed a comprehensive strategic partnership — the first inked between Singapore and another country.

The partnership sets the course for bilateral relations over the next decade and will foster cooperation across broad areas of trade and economics, foreign affairs, defence and security, as well as people-to-people links. 

Under the Project 2025 road map, targets have been set and the agreement is constantly revisited through regular consultations between the two governments. Annual leaders’ meetings will also be held, with the two countries alternating as host. 

The partnership is a result of the two nations’ longstanding friendship, strategic convergence and their many complementaries, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott.

Mr Abbott arrived here yesterdayon Sunday for a two-day official visit — his first since becoming Australia’s Prime Minister in 2013.  

This year marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Republic and Australia, which was one of the first countries to establish official ties with Singapore following its separation from Malaysia.  

During a joint press conference held by the two leaders, Mr Abbott said: “I want to see, as time goes by, Australians and Singaporeans with the same kind of work and residency situation in our two countries that Australians and New Zealanders have long had. I want to see an intimate defence partnership between Australia and Singapore.”

Mr Lee said that the partnership was first mooted by Mr Abbott when the two leaders met in 2012, when Mr Abbott was the leader of the Opposition. 

In August last year, both countries formally began work on it. Mr Lee credited the partnership to Mr Abbott’s vision of closer bilateral relations between the two countries which he “pursued with determination”. He added: “(It) will take our relations to a new level. It’s a transformational agreement, it provides a bold vision and a clear road map for closer relations.” 

Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam and Australia’s Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb will oversee the partnership and ensure both countries adhere to the roadmap. Plans include a review of the existing Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), as well as the conclusion of defence cooperation agreements by July next year.

On the FTA review, Mr Lee said it will look at making the agreement “more business-friendly”. “We will also facilitate opportunities for Singaporean businesses to establish a foothold in Northern Australia which is resource-rich and has many potentials for development,” he said. 

The focus would also be on improving mobility of professionals and the access to the respective markets. Mr Abbott said: “I’d be disappointed if within 12 months we can’t have much more effective mobility between our two countries at every level, and more professional recognition between our two countries, because this is one of the world’s greatest business centres along with London, New York, Hong Kong.”

As part of the partnership, several Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) were signed on various areas including counter-terrorism, the arts and heritage, as well as trade and economic development. An MOU was inked between Spring Singapore and Standards Australia to promote the alignment of standards, and the adoption of international standards in the region. This would benefit homegrown small and medium enterprises, such as AWP Architects whose director Goh Peng Thong said: “Once (the standards are) common, it’s much easier for both parties to reciprocate in terms of the technical knowledge.” 

On the economic front, the partnership will also seek to, for example, increase the flow of skilled labour and visitors between the two countries, and provide better access to financial and capital markets. 

In areas of defence and security, Singapore could receive greater access to military training areas and participate in joint development of training facilities in Australia. Intelligence sharing and collaboration on cybercrime, organised crime and money laundering are also on the cards. 

There are also plans to increase internship opportunities in Australia for Singaporean students, and raise cooperation between arts institutions in both countries, among other things. 

Last year, bilateral trade reached S$25.5 billion, and Australia was Singapore’s 11th largest trading partner, accounting for 2.6 per cent of the Republic’s total trade.

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