Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's Remarks at the Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce Dialogue, 27 September 2023

27 September 2023

Ms Shirley Qi, President of the Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (SGC)

Dr Tim Philippi, Executive Director of SGC

Ambassador Norbert Riedel 

Ladies and Gentlemen,


1 Guten Tag, a very good afternoon to everyone. I just came back from New York.  I was asked just now what the mood was like in New York. I would say it was sombre. The world is a troubled place. The COVID-19 pandemic may be over, but if you think about COVID-19 as a test, a global test of preparedness, of governance, and of equity, the world came up short. It was not as if everyone was in a congratulatory mood because the COVID-19 pandemic was apparently over.

2 Of course, the war in Ukraine continues to grind on. At least based on conversations in New York at the (United Nations) General Assembly, I do not think anyone has any hope of a quick resolution, or even a ceasefire in the short term. As for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (UN), we are now at the halfway point. Again, the brutal fact is that we are behind in terms of achieving progress. On climate change, you need only just look at the floods in Libya, and in Pakistan before that, and everyone would have a sense that there is a looming food and energy crisis. If you think in terms of natural disasters, the recent earthquakes in Morocco, and before that Türkiye - all this creates a very unsettled, troubled backdrop. So, this was the mood, and I can say that although people were trying to find solutions and trying to at least start the necessary conversations for negotiations and discussion, the mood was sombre. I should add one other factor – everyone is still waiting to see how the US and China will sort out their more fundamental strategic relationship, one in which there is still an absence of strategic trust. That was the backdrop in New York.


Germany-Singapore Relations 

3 This afternoon, I want to come back more specifically to the relationship between Germany and Singapore, and of course the EU as a wider backdrop. This is a bright spot amongst the other dreary themes confronting the world. Prime Minister Lee (Hsien Loong) and Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz issued a Joint Declaration when Chancellor Scholz was in Singapore last year. It was titled “Partners for a Resilient and Sustainable Future”. The Declaration buttressed two cornerstones of our relations – defence and economic cooperation, while pushing the boundaries on new and emerging areas such as digitalisation and climate change. You may recall that Prime Minister Lee and I were in Kiel, Germany last year for the launch of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN)’s new submarines, and the Chancellor was there as well.

4 On the economic front, the Germany-Singapore Framework on Sustainability and Innovation (FSI) was signed on the side lines of the 17th Asia-Pacific Conference on German Business in Singapore last year. I believe you know this as the APK. We could not help noticing that the APK was attended by both the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor. I think it is very unusual for the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor to be out of the country at the same time and to be in the same foreign country at the same time.  Again, I saw that as another index of the importance which Germany pays to economic opportunities in Southeast Asia, and Singapore obviously is a hub for Southeast Asia. This conference offered an excellent platform for B2B, G2G and B2G exchanges. The FSI also promotes private sector-led collaboration across key sectors, such as advanced manufacturing, mobility, and green technologies. We hope it will also facilitate cooperation in areas such as business matching, networking, and workplace training. 

5 Collectively, these agreements underscore our like-minded commitment to the rules-based international order, multilateralism, free trade, fair competition, and high standards of vocational training. These are all key attributes of the German approach to the economy. The point which I have been repeatedly making is that this makes Germany and the EU obvious natural partners for a place like Singapore, which also depends on free trade, economic integration, global supply chains, high standards of vocational performance, and companies which are globally competitive. This is the same pioneering and collaborative spirit that Singapore and the EU are taking when we approach new frontiers. The EU-Singapore Digital Partnership, Digital Trade Principles, and the launch of negotiations toward an EU-Singapore digital trade agreement in July this year, will advance digital collaboration and connectivity between Singapore and the EU. It will also enable our companies and our people to tap on opportunities with greater legal, regulatory, and operational certainty.


6 But Singapore is just one part of the larger equation. We welcome Germany’s desire to enhance and enrich its relations in the Asia-Pacific and play a larger role globally, in line with the Zeitenwende, the historical turning point. Much of what has been accomplished under the banner of Germany-Singapore relations, in my view, is the template for what can be done to enhance EU-ASEAN relations. On that note, I am very pleased that we launched the report by the Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce just now, which makes the plug for an EU-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement.

7 We believe that Southeast Asia remains a region full of potential and opportunities. ASEAN is the EU’s third largest trading partner outside Europe. In fact, not enough people know that the EU was the third-largest investor in ASEAN in 2022, after the US and Japan. ASEAN remains committed to greater integration in both traditional and emerging fields, including customs, trade, transport, digital connectivity, and sustainability. ASEAN is also working on a Digital Economy Framework Agreement. An integrated ASEAN unlocks new possibilities for your businesses which are based in Singapore. We encourage the German businesses based in Singapore to leverage on our unique position as a hub with excellent infrastructure, extensive physical and trade connectivity, a highly skilled and disciplined workforce, and a stable political environment, in order to access the many opportunities in our region.

8 Free Trade Agreements are a key mechanism with which our partners can engage our region. Within ASEAN, the EU has Free Trade Agreements currently with Singapore and Vietnam. The EU-Singapore FTA has benefitted businesses through improved market access and enhanced Intellectual Property protection, amongst others. It is a welcome sign that the EU recently concluded an FTA with New Zealand. I believe it is currently negotiating FTAs with Australia and Indonesia, and relaunched negotiations with Thailand. But my point here is to say please double down, please accelerate all these efforts. 

9 We believe that ASEAN will grow to become the fourth largest economy in the world collectively by 2030. So, it is in our interest to work towards an ASEAN-EU FTA that will expand the reach of the EU-Singapore FTA. It will enhance region-to-region connectivity and create new opportunities for investments by drawing on the complementary strengths of our two regions. Strategically, it will further efforts to diversify critical supply chains and enhance economic resilience, while fostering deeper EU-ASEAN engagement in our region, in tandem with the existing agreements like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Comprehensive Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF). These are all agreements which have been made, forged in the last few years, involving Southeast Asia and the rest of the world, and my main point is that the EU must get into this act as well.

10 So, the ongoing collaboration between the ASEAN and the EU in three areas, the digital economy, green technology and services, and supply chains, will become important building blocks that will lay a foundation for a Free Trade Agreement that will be beneficial for all parties involved. Nevertheless, we recognise that ASEAN is a very diverse region and therefore for the negotiators, you do need to be patient, consultative, and inclusive, to arrive at a comprehensive, balanced and beneficial agreement for all parties involved. The point that Dr Philippi made earlier, about not letting perfection become an enemy of the good, is also very salient. 

11 Despite all these global difficulties and the backdrop, my conclusion is that there is great potential in Southeast Asia. There is great scope for Germany and the EU to do a lot more in Southeast Asia, and this is a path of no regret. Despite the turning points facing the world, despite superpower rivalry, and despite all the other challenges confronting the world, we can do more in Germany, Singapore, the EU, and ASEAN. So let me stop now and I hope we have a robust and interesting discussion after this. Thank you all very much.


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Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s Remarks at the Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce Dialogue, 27 September 2023
Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore 


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