PM Lee calls on Asia, Europe leaders to strengthen multilateral system

BRUSSELS: With multilateralism coming under severe stress, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called on leaders from Asia and Europe gathered at a biennial summit to work together in strengthening the long-standing system.He said that a strong multilateral system benefits countries regardless of size and if it is weakened, consequences can range from reduced living standards to heightened rivalry that risk destabilising the world order. 
READ: PM Lee, German Chancellor Merkel welcome upcoming signing of EU-Singapore trade deal
On global financial governance, Mr Lee said the Group of 20 (G20) Eminent Persons Group, chaired by Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, has recommended practical reforms to strengthen global financial resilience and reduce the incidence and severity of crises so that countries need not fear openness. When implemented, these proposals, which have received strong support from the European Commission and the European Central Bank, will bolster and stabilise the global financial system. Mr Lee also noted that many other global issues, such as climate change and nuclear non-proliferation, can only be solved multilaterally. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister said he is glad that many Asian and European countries have stepped forward to affirm their commitment to multilateralism, both through words and deeds.The 28-member European Union, for instance, will be signing a free trade agreement with Singapore later on Friday. "As a small country, Singapore feels more acutely than most the need for a strong multilateral system but such a system actually benefits all countries big and small."If countries take a purely realpolitik approach acting on the basis that might is right, they may gain in the short term, but they will forgo many more opportunities for win-win cooperation in the long term," said Mr Lee. "This will ultimately not be sustainable."BILATERAL MEETINGS, SIGNING OF EUSFTAPrior to the plenary session, Mr Lee had roundtable meetings at the ASEM summit with the leaders of South Korea, France, Vietnam, Slovenia and Slovakia.On the sidelines, Mr Lee met Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila and both leaders took stock of bilateral ties, while welcoming closer cooperation in areas such as education and climate change. "Finland is among the world leaders in education and there is much more that we can learn from each other," said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office.During Mr Lee's meeting with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, both leaders affirmed the growing ties between Singapore and Poland.They also agreed that the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) will provide a positive framework for further cooperation.

READ: Britain in EUSFTA for now, but will have to start own talks post-Brexit

Mr Lee is set to sign the EUSFTA on Friday afternoon, alongside European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council president Donald Tusk and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Austria is the current president of the EU Council.
The leaders will also witness the signing of the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement (EUSIPA) and the EU-Singapore Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (ESPCA).
Earlier in the day, Mr Lee revealed during an interview with BBC Radio 4 that Singapore hopes to continue arrangements with Britain, whether or not it is inside the EU.
Britain remains in the EUSFTA for now but in a post-Brexit scenario, a “short-form agreement” may be possible between both countries, said Mr Lee.
"In the first instance, we can do what the trade people call in their jargon, a short-form agreement, which is basically to continue to do with Britain what we have agreed to do with the EU as if you were still inside it.
"Then we have time to work some better, long-term arrangements over time," said Mr Lee, who revealed that he has discussed this possible deal with UK Prime Minister Theresa May and "it can be done".
Source: CNA/sk(hm)