It is amazing to reflect that 60 years ago Singapore, with which the UK signed a deal this week, was little more than jungle.
With its gleaming towers and bustling enterprise, Singapore has been built on hard work and free trade. A nation of more than five million people, it punches well above its weight. As well as being a vibrant maritime and financial hub, it leads the world in many areas of technology.
Singapore is part of two significant groupings: Asean, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). It is also signing cutting-edge deals with Chile, New Zealand and Australia, promoting trade in digital and data.
As the UK establishes itself as an independent trading nation, it is looking to partners such as Singapore that have paved the way.
With digital trade booming worldwide, it is vital to embrace the industries of the future. The United States found recently that the most beneficial part of its deal with Mexico and Canada related to data and digital provision. This will be just as important in the UK’s deals.
Singapore has agreed to move forward with a digital economy agreement with the UK, the first European nation with which it has sought one. It is testament to the UK’s forward-looking approach as it strives to be a digital hub, not a digital island.
The UK is the world’s second-biggest services exporter, and most of those services are delivered digitally. It is home to the third-largest number of “tech unicorns” and secures more foreign direct investment than anywhere else in Europe. Together the UK and Singapore will set the standard for trade in the 21st century.
Already the best of British business is active in Singapore — designing the new airport terminal, building eco-friendly buses, and helping people manage their money.
Great British innovators, such as Revolut, DarkTrace and Deliveroo, are thriving here. More are keen to follow, with the Tech Nation network finding stronger levels of interest in Singapore than on the US West Coast.
By fighting for free and fair trade, the UK will be allying with digital liberalisers such as Singapore and the US against protectionists, standing for the free flow of data and resisting data localisation, which piles on business the needless cost of setting up extra servers.
A deal has also been signed with Vietnam, adding to deals agreed with Canada and with Japan, ratified by both parliaments this week.
These deals bring the UK a step closer to joining its Pacific partners in the CPTPP, which promotes rules-based free trade. Membership would provide British businesses with a gateway to the Indo-Pacific region, securing unprecedented access to markets representing 13 per cent of the world’s GDP, or nearly £9 trillion. Add a trade deal with the US, where British negotiators have made good progress, and that is about 37 per cent of global GDP, at £25 trillion.
It could not be more important as the world recovers from the Covid crisis to deepen trade with the most dynamic markets.
The UK has secured 93 per cent of the value of its trade with countries beyond Europe with which it has sought continuity agreements, and there’s more to come before the end of the year. Trade talks — as has recently become apparent — often go down to the wire.
No other country has negotiated so many trade deals simultaneously, or so successfully. In just under two years, agreements have been struck with 57 countries, from South Korea to South Africa. Some £193 billion in bilateral trade has been sustained, with the stage set for further growth.
The path to prosperity lies in free trade, with Singapore showing how successful a nation can become by embracing it wholeheartedly. In the same forward-looking spirit, the UK is ready to show the world its potential once again.