14 and 16 June 2004

Concluding remarks by the Chairperson

See also:
> Press release: Economic prospects look healthy although challenges remain

We have had a most informative and constructive discussion of Singapore's trade policies and practices. The discussion benefited greatly from the valuable contributions made by Permanent Secretary Heng Swee Keat, and his delegation, by our discussant, Ambassador Eirik Glenne in leading the discussion today and by Members of the TPRB. Several Members have also thanked Singapore for its efforts in facilitating multilateral trade discussions, especially in the areas of TRIPS and agriculture.

This, Singapore's Fourth Trade Policy Review, has demonstrated that its economy remains one of the most open to international trade and investment. This openness, in great part, has helped Singapore weather recent economic shocks, such as the Asian financial crisis and more recently the global economic slowdown, which was compounded by the SARS crisis and events in the Middle East. Members commended Singapore's continuing reforms aimed at promoting a competitive economy that is globalized, entrepreneurial and diversified in the face of these shocks. Some Members sought further details on the nature of these reforms, especially efforts to enhance wage flexibility, employment and training, and to address the challenge of an apparent recent decline in total factor productivity although I have noted Singapore's comments in this regards.

Members noted that with international trade amounting to about three times GDP, Singapore remained committed to a rules based multilateral trading system. Several Members, however, noted the number of bilateral free trade agreements Singapore had signed since the previous Review and asked how it reconciled this trend with its participation in the multilateral trading system. Members urged Singapore to maintain its participation in current WTO negotiations. The representative of Singapore stressed his country's commitment to the multilateral trading system and responded that its bilateral FTAs were “WTO-plus” and could contribute to further multilateral trade liberalization. Singapore was also actively participating in the current WTO negotiations and would do its utmost to ensure their success.

Members raised questions about certain aspects of Singapore's trade policy, including: customs procedures and trade facilitation; the difference between bound and applied tariff rates; the use of specific duties; import licensing policies, particularly with regard to rice; standards; and Singapore's relatively stringent SPS policy. Questions were also raised about Singapore's government procurement procedures and the enforcement of intellectual property rights. It was noted that Singapore's use of contingency measures was relatively limited.

Since restrictions to international trade are relatively few, Members were mostly interested in Singapore's recent and ongoing domestic reforms. Several Members welcomed Singapore's announcement of an economy wide competition policy to be put in place over the next few years. While noting that some reforms had been carried out with regard to government linked corporations (GLCs) held by the Government holding company, Temasek, Members sought further details on inter alia “demystifying Temasek”, GLCs and their further disinvestment, measures to ensure fair competition between them and other private sector companies as well as efforts to reduce government involvement in the economy. Questions were also raised with regard to tax and non-tax incentives and the sectors in which they are currently concentrated.

With regard to services, Members noted major reforms, especially in telecommunications, and banking and insurance services. They noted that liberalization of telecommunications services in particular, had resulted in benefits for consumers and encouraged Singapore to continue further reforms in other sectors as well. Further details were requested on banking and insurance, transport, audio visual services, professional services, and tourism. Some Members also requested information on Singapore's GATS Schedule.

To conclude, I would like to thank the Singapore delegation on its oral and written response provided during the meeting and once again to congratulate Singapore on being an exemplary Member of the WTO and for its efforts in helping us to better understand its trade related policies. Our discussions have also helped us to appreciate the significant challenges facing Singapore today and the Government's measures to address these challenges.