Australia Seals Trade Expansion And $2.25B Defence Deal With Singapore

6 May 2016

Australia will significantly deepen economic and defence ties with Singapore through an expansion of the countries' free trade agreement and a major boost to the number of Singaporean troops training in Queensland.

Former trade minister Andrew Robb has clinched the deal, which aims to elevate ties with Singapore to the same level as Australia-New Zealand relations.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Robb and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo will on Friday announce the agreement, under which Singapore will build $2.25 billion of new defence infrastructure, including new barracks, making it the only country beyond the United States to invest in military infrastructure on Australian soil.

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, begun by former prime minister Tony Abbott and his counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, more than a year ago, represents a major boost to the strategic relationship amid the rise of China and the growing uncertainty across Asia.

"It takes our relationship to a whole other level, and in the region [it is] comparable to our very, very close relationship with New Zealand," Mr Robb said.

"It will lead to significantly more linkages and business across so many different sectors. It's going to lead to immediate multi-billion investments in Northern Australia. It's totally consistent with where we wanted the Defence white paper to go, where the northern Australia [white paper] commitments go."

Strategically, it would "lock in a deep friendship in a most powerful way", he said.

For the next quarter of a century, Singapore will send up to 14,000 military personnel to Australia for training, up from the 6000 a year now. They will stay for up to 18 weeks, longer than they currently stay.

There will also be an expansion to air force training. Details are yet to be agreed upon, but Singapore pilots will now be able to train in Australia for up to six months a year.

The expanded troop training will be based in Shoalwater Bay and Townsville in Queensland. Singapore will spend $2.25 billion on training facilities, barracks, roads, fencing and other measures, with the investment roughly split between the two sites.

For the other 34 weeks of the year, the Australian Army will be able to use the facilities.

A boost to northern Queensland's economy, in such areas as tourism, is also expected to flow through.

The deal follows Mr Robb signing free trade deals with China, Japan, South Korea and the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the past three years and significantly expands the existing FTA, first struck in 2003.

It increases visa access for Australian contract workers and executives, and allows spouses and children to work. Singapore will recognise some postgraduate law and medical degrees from some universities.

And investments – aside from agricultural land investments – under $1 billion will avoid full scrutiny from the Foreign Investment Review Board, up from the current threshold of $250 million. Both countries will commit $25 million to a science and innovation fund.

Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, said Singapore was desperate for "strategic depth" – relations with like-minded countries. But it was also good for Australia, he said.

"The context is in large part the rise of China, but it's not just about China. Singapore is famously pragmatic and recognises the need for smaller and middle powers to work together on security, because of uncertainties about Indo-Pacific power balance more generally, including the future US posture."

He said that given the wrangling between Canberra and Washington over who would pay for the US Marine facilities in Darwin, it was "ironic that Singapore, a non-ally, seems willing to stump up for costs to cover its forces' access to Australia, when our US ally has been so reluctant to do so".


Source :