Singapore is a tiny island nation without natural resources. Yet, it's one of the world's richest countries, largely thanks to its deep and unflinching committment to free and open trade. Its port - indeed, in terms of transshipments, the busiest in the world - takes in 140.000 vessels yearly.
I've been here since this morning to discuss the free trade agreement that has been concluded between the EU and Singapore. Once in place, it will remove nearly all customs duties and get rid of overlapping bureaucracy, improving trade conditions for goods like electronics, food products and pharmaceuticals. It's also designed to stimulate green growth, removing obstacles to trade in green technology and creating new opportunities in the field of environmental services.
At meetings with Ministers here today, we reiterated our committment from both sides to having the agreement in place soon. We intend to engage with stakeholders to make sure that the agreement can be ratified and enter into force as early as possible, so that we can start reaping the benefits. On the EU side, we are awaiting a verdict in the European Court of Justice about what the ratification process for this trade deal will look like. Hopefully, the Court will have their say in the first half of this year.
Trade and investment between us is already significant - there are over 11.000 EU companies present in Singapore today, and it's the largest trading partner of the EU in the ASEAN region. The EU, meanwhile, is Singapore's second largest trading partner after China.
During my visit here, I also had the wonderful opportunity to speak to students at Singapore Management University. I underlined to students that, in these times of increased protectionism, fortunes will depend on staying open and connected to the rest of the world. Read my full speech here. (For those interested, there are also photos available as well as video from the port visit, meetings with Ministers and the university lecture.)
Tomorrow, I'm pressing on to the Filipino capital of Manila, where I'm meeting the Trade Ministers of the ten countries of ASEAN for our annual consultations. I especially look forward to discussing with them how to advance our plans for a region-to-region free trade deal between us. There is a huge untapped potential in our trade relationship, and I hope that we can take concrete steps to strengthen it further.