Her Excellency Barbara Plinkert, Ambassador of the European Union to Singapore,
Ms Zsuzsanna Felkai-Janssen, Head of Sector for Migration and Directorate General Coordinator for Artificial Intelligence, European Commission,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning. The ties between Singapore and Europe go back centuries. As Singapore commemorates our Bicentennial this year, we are paying special attention to our history and the values that brought us over the past 200 years since 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles landed, to where we are today in 2019.

2 It is not by accident that some of the values we celebrate have resonance in Europe—particularly those that have led us to be an open port over the last 200 years. A city open to the flow of people, products, trade and most importantly, ideas.

3 The trading links that started 200 years ago between Europe and Asia continue to be strong today. As Ambassador Barbara Plinkert pointed out, we have a rich tapestry of connections with Europe and EU, comprising the physical, the digital, and the people-to-people connectivity. These connections are important to the broader region around us as well.

4 Today, global trade tensions between US and China dominate the agenda and our minds. Other challenges like climate change, extremism and cybercrime are coming to the fore.

5 Amidst such uncertain and challenging times, it is reassuring that Singapore and EU are like-minded partners. Our cooperation, collaboration and friendship is more important than ever in support of an open, fair and rules-based, multilateral world order. Strengthening the connectivity between EU and Singapore will be key to connecting EU and ASEAN, two of the most important regional organisations in the world. If we can do things together, we will be better able to tackle common challenges more effectively and unlock new opportunities brought about by technology and education.

6 Against this backdrop, I would like to start off today’s dialogue with the lessons and opportunities Singapore can glean from enhancing our connectivity with EU, as well as ASEAN.

Physical Connectivity

7 I will start with physical connectivity. Singapore started out as a port with strong sea links. For a large part of Singapore’s history since colonial times, our port was the centre of the region’s trade with Europe and Asia. Today, we still have one of the world’s busiest ports and remain well-connected to Europe through some 30 weekly container sailings. We are on track to develop Tuas Terminal which, when completed, will be the single largest transshipment terminal in the world. Sea connectivity, our maritime heritage and history, continue to be extremely relevant for the Singapore of today and of the future.

8 We did not stop at our sea links. Post-independence Singapore then focused on building up our air links. In 1981, Changi Airport was constructed to serve the rapidly growing demand for global air transport. Today, Changi Airport is the largest hub in Southeast Asia handling more than 65 million passengers in 2018. We are directly connected to more than 100 European cities by air links.

9 With the growth of the digital economy, Singapore has developed extensive digital links to the region in ASEAN, Europe and the world. Singapore is one of the top submarine cable hubs in the world with the most number of submarine cable landings in Asia Pacific. A significant number of these cables connect Singapore and ASEAN to Europe directly. One example is the 20,000 km long Southeast Asia–Middle East–Western Europe 5 (SEA-ME-WE 5) cable system, which was constructed in 2016 and has a capacity of 24 terabits per second. It will meet the quadrupling of bandwidth demand between Europe and Asia from 2016 to 2021, and we have plenty of spare capacity. The EU is, and will continue to be, a key partner in our connectivity strategy to the rest of the world.

10 In the other direction, Singapore recognises that the stability and opportunities for our economic growth are intricately linked to the regional connectivity in ASEAN. We are keen to contribute to the regional connectivity in ASEAN by leveraging our experience with infrastructure investments and the strong institutions we have here. Likewise, we hope that the EU can be a key partner and beneficiary in improving the connectivity infrastructure in ASEAN.

11 ASEAN is in the midst of a period of major economic growth with GDP growth rates of more than 5 – 6%. This growth is fuelled by the expansion of ASEAN’s workforce which leads to higher infrastructure demands.

12 There is a notable infrastructure gap in ASEAN. Addressing this infrastructure gap will lead to increased opportunities for greater investment, trade and employment for all the ASEAN countries. This is part of the significance of the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy to utilise the established institutions and frameworks in EU to promote sustainable infrastructure development in ASEAN.

13 In this regard, Singapore, as the coordinator for ASEAN-EU dialogue relations, is well-positioned to promote closer cooperation in infrastructure development between ASEAN and EU.  Singapore’s status as a trade and transport hub in the region makes Singapore a choice location as a regional base for EU countries to reach out to ASEAN. We have many European companies like Unilever, which have set up their regional offices in Singapore while their market and customer bases are spread out across the world.

14 We hope that the EU can capitalise on, and be a contributing partner in the robust infrastructure ecosystem in Singapore to be more involved in ASEAN’s infrastructure development. We launched an office in October 2018 called Infrastructure Asia, to help build partnerships amongst European industry partners and the regional governments in Asia to better structure, finance and implement infrastructure projects in ASEAN.

15 Moving on to air transport, Singapore also looks forward to the expeditious conclusion of the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA) between ASEAN and the EU, which will establish a first-in-the-world bloc-to-bloc air transport agreement when completed. With greater air transport liberalisation, we can look forward to a more competitive air transport sector that would facilitate more trade, business and tourism flows between the two regions.

16 There is still much that EU and its industry partners can do to unlock the full potential of EU-ASEAN cooperation. We encourage EU to continue working with ASEAN as a key partner in the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy, and continue to ensure infrastructure investments are done in a rules-based, cooperative and sustainable way to promote inclusive growth. 

Digital Connectivity

17 Digital connectivity is another aspect that has fundamentally transformed our lives and our world. The speed and volume of data flows have grown exponentially over the course of history. In the 19th century, letters between Europe and Singapore took months to travel by sea. In the 20th century, the advent of airmail flight service reduced the time taken to hours instead. Today, we have live connectivity—either through Facetime or Skype where we can have conversations with colleagues and friends in Europe.

18 Letters can be digitised into emails and text messages that can be sent in a matter of seconds, or even milliseconds. Every day, billions of letters’ worth of data flows between Europe and Singapore.

19 Our social interactions can no longer be decoupled from our mobile phones and social media, and digital technologies have become the core for many businesses. Consequently, the digital economy is becoming the most important driver of competitiveness and growth for all countries.

20 Digital connectivity between Singapore, EU and ASEAN is fundamental to the growth of our Digital Economy. As the flow of data is the currency for digital connectivity, both the EU and Singapore are strong proponents for open data flows across borders, and are committed to multilateral and regional efforts in this regard. At WTO, Singapore and the EU are actively engaging in the ongoing negotiations of the Joint Statement Initiative on E-Commerce to develop baseline rules for the digital economy, which may include rules on cross-border data flows.

21 Within ASEAN, there are still existing barriers to the free flow of data across borders. Different data protection laws and data localisation requirements are a concerning trend in the region, as they lead to higher business costs and impedes competitiveness for businesses. This will delay the benefits that we can reap from the extensive free flow of data.

22 In Singapore, we view the APEC Cross Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) system as an appropriate international standard to facilitate cross border flows of data within APEC. The APEC region is highly diverse and we do need a pragmatic instrument, such as the CBPR, to help companies transfer data. The economies involved are at very different stages of development, and at some stage of development, your short to medium term interests in terms of a nationalistic, data localisation worldview is not entirely irrational. The issue then is, how do we provide a framework to transit these economies and its partners towards the medium to long term benefits that the increase in free flow of data would provide.

23 In Singapore, we are a participant to the CBPR system and we are putting in place the necessary structures for our participation, which will allow certified organisations to move personal data across borders more seamlessly. In this process, we have also aligned our CBPR certifications with our domestic Data Protection Trustmark Certification which was launched in January earlier this year. We are hoping to be able to demonstrate the compliance with international cross border data privacy rules, which is entirely consistent with a robust internal, domestic process to protect our interests.

24 Singapore firmly believes in harmonising the personal data protection standards in ASEAN to support cross-border data flows. This will bring great benefits to trade flows and encourage businesses to operate across jurisdictions.  We initiated the development of the ASEAN Framework on Personal Data Protection which was endorsed at the ASEAN Telecommunications Ministers’ Meeting (TELMIN) in Nov 2016.  We are building on that momentum by leading the ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance – endorsed in 2018 - to achieve legal and regulatory alignment of data regulations and governance frameworks in ASEAN.

25 One of the initiatives under the Framework on Digital Data Governance will see ASEAN develop a Cross Border Data Flows Mechanism to facilitate such data flows based on a common set of principles and participation rules. This mechanism must be adaptable and scalable to the needs and varying stages of development in ASEAN. We are also working towards with interoperability with APEC systems in developing the ASEAN mechanism.

26 The EU can play an important role in the harmonisation of data frameworks in ASEAN by supporting multilateral platforms like CBPR that facilitate cross-border data flows, and integrate that process through the knowledge and strong experience that the EU has in drafting and implementing regional data frameworks such as the GDPR.

27 In working towards the ultimate goal of global interoperability, we hope that EU can work with Singapore and ASEAN to facilitate interoperability among the GDPR, APEC systems and the upcoming ASEAN mechanism. 

People - to - People Connectivity

28 Moving on, we cannot overlook the human dimension of connectivity. Singapore has grown considerably from a entrepot port with a small population to a cosmopolitan city-state. As a globally connected economy with a multicultural society, Singapore strives to be a bastion for cross-border mobility and cultural tolerance that promotes such mobility.

29 In our early years as a British colony, there were only a handful of European settlers in Singapore and absolutely no Singaporean presence in Europe. Today, we have many expatriates from the EU living in Singapore, and vice versa. According to human resources consultancy ECA international, Singapore is the most liveable city in Asia for expats for the 14th year in a row.

30 On top of our connectivity in the region, our sensitivity to the diversity of cultures and unique mix of talents can serve as a springboard for the people in EU to work and live in ASEAN.  The EU and Singapore have enjoyed many close research and education collaborations. This open exchange of results in creativity and innovation, which underpin business partnerships and create opportunities for the people in ASEAN.

31 The European companies and community in Singapore are also huge contributors to the R&D ecosystem in this region. There are many EU companies have research centres in Singapore that serve their operations in ASEAN/APAC. An example is Fraunhofer, Europe's largest institution for applied research, which has set up its first Interactive Digital Media (IDM) facility outside of US and Europe at NTU. Another example is Ericsson, which has partnered Singtel to set up a 5G Centre of Excellence, and a 5G Garage in Singapore Polytechnic to work with our students to co-develop 5G solutions relevant to industries such as transportation and healthcare. As Singapore aims to be a regional leader in 5G, companies can capitalise on our people and platforms to trial new applications and services for the region.

32 With closer people-to-people connectivity between EU and Singapore, we hope that there will be an increase in opportunities to reinforce the flow of people, ideas, values and trade between the EU and Singapore. This will strengthen the friendships, collaborations and opportunities in both directions that go back centuries. 


33 EU and Singapore have enjoyed a long history of excellent relations, which will need to be constantly and continually strengthened, reinforced and nurtured so that people will understand what are the values that drive this deep friendship, and its value to both our people, institutions and businesses.

34 In the face of challenges from global trade tensions and uncertainties, these could also potentially be opportunities for EU and Singapore for further collaboration with like-minded partners.  We hope to find ways for our people to conceptualise, collaborate and co-create new solutions to global and regional challenges going forward.

35 Thank you for inviting me today. I look forward to hearing some of the presentations, and I hope that you have a productive time here in Singapore.