Kazakhstan in line for S'pore trade deal

SINGAPORE – A new services and investment agreement between Singapore and Kazakhstan will bolster trade ties that have been growing in strength in recent years.

Negotiations for the pact, which is part of a deal between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), are expected to conclude soon, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said earlier this month.

“Singapore and Kazakhstan have been steadily strengthening our economic ties… and companies from both countries have established presence in each other’s markets,” a ministry spokesman added.

Kazakhstan’s Trade and Integration Minister Bakhyt Sultanov told The Straits Times by e-mail that five rounds of talks had been held so far, adding: “Unfortunately, the pandemic has also affected the dynamics of negotiations.”

Both countries “continue to work on concluding the agreement through e-mail exchanges and online meetings”, he said.

Kazakhstan is Singapore’s largest trading partner in Central Asia, data out last year noted, with bilateral trade in goods amounting to $133.6 million in 2017, three times the levels of a decade ago.

Mr Sultanov said countries have imposed restrictions on the export of essential items such as medical supplies and food amid the pandemic to ensure their citizens have enough, but this will harm all countries in the long term, particularly vulnerable ones.

“The restrictive measures imposed on exports to protect domestic markets contribute to a decrease in supply in world markets,” he noted, adding that prices are likely to increase as a result.

Mr Sultanov’s call for open trade reinforces Singapore’s stance on the importance of keeping supply lines open to ensure that economies around the world can bounce back from the pandemic quickly.

He said: “Trade is the engine of progress. This is why we aim to liberalise trade and economic cooperation with other countries and associations as much as possible.”

Mr Sultanov added that Kazakhstan had revised a ban – introduced in March amid the pandemic – on agricultural items.

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It announced in May that it will lift export restrictions on grain and flour, among other measures, given that the country is no longer facing food-security issues.

Mr Sultanov hopes the agreements signed under the EAEU-Singapore deal will help Kazakhstan “develop the markets of the entire Asia-Pacific market”.

The deal signed so far provide duty-free access for 40 per cent of Singapore’s products into the EAEU.

It will be increased up to 87 per cent “after all transition periods, which range from three to 10 years”, Mr Sultanov said.

In turn, Singapore provides duty-free access for all goods from EAEU countries, he added.

“Singapore is recognised as the largest financial centre in Asia (and) has a leading position in the world in terms of the use of information and communication technologies,” he added.

“Kazakhstan would like to learn from Singapore’s positive experience in these areas.”

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