Early ratification of EU-S’pore FTA may not be possible, say analysts

Channel News Asia | 18 Dec 2013

Early ratification of EU-S’pore FTA may not be possible, say analysts

By Saifulbahri Ismail

Singapore has been pushing for the ratification of the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) as early as possible — but observers say that as it is a complex process involving all the different members of the EU, the goal will be a difficult one.

SINGAPORE: Singapore has been pushing for the ratification of the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) as early as possible.

However, observers said that as it is a complex process involving all the different members of the EU, the goal will be a difficult one.

Singapore’s leaders have been lobbying EU countries intensively to get the FTA ratified by May 2014 — and some countries have already given Singapore their strong backing.
But this may not be enough.

Stefano Poli, president of the European Chamber of Commerce (Singapore), said: "Taking into account it involves different entities... it is difficult to believe that it’s going to have an earlier conclusion."

The EU’s FTA with South Korea was only ratified nearly two years after it was signed, while the EU and Singapore only signed the text of the agreement in September 2013.

The FTA is still being translated into the 23 official languages of the EU member states, and only after that will it be presented to the European Parliament for ratification.

There may also be other challenges.

A new investment protection chapter was introduced as part of the FTA about two months ago. Observers familiar with the FTA said this will make the process more complex, and could also lead to further delays.

There are also concerns that if the FTA is not ratified before the European Parliamentary elections scheduled early 2014, developments there could also complicate the process.

Yeo Lay Hwee, director of the European Union Centre (Singapore), said: "There are some far-right parties that are very active in the coming elections, and there are concerns there might be parliamentarians with much more protectionist views who will get elected.

“It’s hard to tell since there are 700 over members of parliament. So, it’s going to be an unknown factor for a while, and the concern is because of the changes, and the time for the new parliamentarians to settle in to get the process going. So, it might drag on a little bit."

Observers have mixed views on what a possible delay in the ratification may mean.

Ho Meng Kit, chief executive officer of the Singapore Business Federation, said: "If there is going to be at all a delay — I do not expect the delay, first of all, to be very long. But I think you need to take into the context of the longer term.

“Both regions, EU especially, look at ASEAN’s growth in strategic terms because it’s growing five to six per cent for a long time. They (would) want to do this in a strategic way. So a minimal delay of one, two years — I don’t think it figures very much in the strategic calculations."

Mr Poli added: "If there is going to be a delay, there is a consequence on the other agreements that are negotiated now in the region, and this is going to be a negative effect of course (regarding) regional integration from the economic perspective."

What is clear, however, is that with Europe’s economic recovery, an early ratification of the FTA will help businesses with greater opportunities and market access.

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source: CNA