The Eighth Meeting of the Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee (SAJMC) was held in Singapore on 22 August 2014. The meeting was hosted by Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam, and attended by Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang and Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen. From Australia, Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb AO, and Assistant Minister for Defence Stuart Robert attended the meeting.

The Ministers resolved to develop a new comprehensive strategic partnership that recognises the increasing closeness of our governments, the historic opportunities in our region, and the tangible benefits to be achieved for our peoples.

They agreed on a roadmap towards this partnership - "Project 2025" - a specific set of actions towards this end.

They agreed that the new comprehensive strategic partnership will see new levels of integration, and involve deeper cooperation across the Economic, Foreign Affairs, Defence/Security and People-to-People fields.

  • In the Economic field, the Ministers agreed to deepen economic integration and upgrade the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) to a Closer Economic Partnership. The Ministers also agreed to enhance financial cooperation, including more integrated financial markets, strengthen two-way investment flows and business activity in agriculture, resources, aviation cooperation, tourism, and other fields, including in Northern Australia. There will be close cooperation on how both nations can better integrate economically and benefit from a vibrant growing region.
  • In Foreign Affairs, the Ministers agreed to elevate the bilateral dialogue and enhance collaboration on regional and international issues, including cooperation in ASEAN and on regional architecture and the East Asia Summit (EAS). They will embark on exchanges of officials and third country training programmes for the region.
  • In Defence and Security, the Ministers agreed to further collaboration on transnational crime and counter-terrorism. They will further strengthen defence cooperation and access and enhancement of training facilities, and embark on new programmes of exchanges at the military and officials' levels.
  • In the People-to-People field, the Ministers will step up cooperation in research and innovation, education, women's issues, and arts and culture. The Ministers also agreed to expand public sector cooperation and exchanges.

Recognising the significance of the 50th anniversary next year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Australia, Ministers tasked officials to prepare a bilateral joint declaration which will be signed between the two Prime Ministers in 2015.

In reviewing the state of bilateral relations, Ministers concluded that the partnership between the two countries is excellent, underpinned by shared perspectives on strategic issues. This provides a solid foundation for elevating bilateral relations further.

Singapore Ministers in particular welcomed the Australian Government's commitment to strengthen ties with Singapore and the region, through active engagement and innovative policies such as the New Colombo Plan, of which Singapore is amongst its first participants.

Ministers exchanged views on regional and global developments that have taken place since the Seventh SAJMC Meeting in Canberra in 2012. Ministers condemned the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Ukraine on 17 July 2014 which resulted in 298 deaths, including 38 Australian citizens and permanent residents. They urged the full implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2166 on MH17 sponsored by Australia.

Trade and Economic Cooperation

Ministers reaffirmed the close and longstanding economic and trade relations between Australia and Singapore, as well as our commitment to further economic integration and trade liberalisation. Our strong ties have also helped pave the way for cooperation in various regional and multilateral fora.

SAFTA Ministers acknowledged the SAFTA as a cornerstone of our bilateral relations and its importance in promoting closer integration between the two economies. Since the SAFTA came into force in 2003, bilateral trade more than doubled from S$12 billion in 2003 to S$25 billion in 2013. Singapore is Australia's 5th largest overall trading partner and largest trading partner in ASEAN while Australia is Singapore's 12th largest trading partner in 2013. Bilateral investment flows have also continued to grow. In 2013, Singapore's investments in Australia reached A$61 billion and Australia's investments in Singapore reached A$35 billion. Ministers recognised the importance of updating the SAFTA to ensure its continued relevance to businesses.

AANZFTA Ministers noted the implementation of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA) which remains the most comprehensive ASEAN+1 FTA and reflects the close ties between ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand. Ministers also acknowledged the value of Singapore and Australia working more closely on ASEAN connectivity.

RCEP Ministers welcomed the progress of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations. They recognised the significance of RCEP in eliminating trade and investment barriers, as a potential pathway to a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) and strengthening the regional economic architecture. Ministers reaffirmed their strong aspirations towards achieving a modern, comprehensive and high-quality agreement, and committed to advancing negotiations towards these goals. To that end, Ministers urged officials to work together to seek an agreed tariff modality for liberalisation that builds on and goes beyond ASEAN+1 FTAs.

G20 Ministers underlined the value in Australia and Singapore's continued partnership in shaping developments in global issues discussed across various international forums. Singapore Ministers expressed appreciation for Australia's invitation to Singapore for the G20 Brisbane Summit and acknowledged Australia's excellent chairmanship of the G20 meetings. Australian Ministers welcomed Singapore's contributions to the G20 agenda, such as in infrastructure, trade and outreach to non-G20 members through the Global Governance Group (3G). Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to advance trade issues of mutual interest in the G20, including reducing protectionism, improving trade facilitation, and supporting multilateral trade liberalisation. Ministers agreed to work together towards concrete deliverables at the G20 Brisbane Summit.

APEC Ministers welcomed APEC's progress towards attaining the Bogor Goals and eventual realisation of FTAAP. APEC's work demonstrates its leadership and commitment towards Regional Economic Integration.

WTO Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the rules-based multilateral trading system embodied by the WTO, which provides stability and predictability to international trade. Ministers expressed deep disappointment over the failure to adopt the Protocol for the WTO's Agreement on Trade Facilitation and urged all WTO Members to remain committed to the implementation of trade facilitation measures. Ministers agreed to instruct their negotiators to continue work to put the WTO on a credible path towards fulfilling Members' collective goal of global trade liberalisation.

TPP On the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Ministers agreed that both sides would continue to work closely together to deliver an ambitious, comprehensive and high-standard agreement expeditiously.

Aviation Relations Ministers reaffirmed the close aviation relations between Singapore and Australia, noted the SAFTA commitment to continue to work towards an Open Skies Agreement, and welcomed the ongoing cooperation between aviation authorities in multilateral forums, including APEC and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Defence and Security Cooperation

Defence Cooperation Ministers reaffirmed the close and longstanding bilateral defence relationship. They noted that bilateral defence ties have expanded over the years with continuing professional interactions and exchanges under the framework of the Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Cooperation signed at the Prime Ministerial level in August 2008.

Defence Partnership Ministers acknowledged the strong partnership forged between the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) during international security operations in Timor-Leste and multi-national reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, as well as ongoing counter-piracy cooperation in the Gulf of Aden and cooperation in maritime security through the ADF's deployment of International Liaison Officers to Singapore's Information Fusion Centre. Ministers also noted that Singapore and Australia's co-chairmanship of the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) Experts' Working Group on Counter Terrorism provides another concrete area of cooperation between both defence organisations. Ministers welcomed the ongoing discussions to expand military cooperation, including training, exercises, exchanges and information-sharing, between both armed forces. Ministers noted the importance of regional Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) cooperation between both armed forces, and expressed support for collaboration efforts through regional mechanisms.

Renewal of Training Agreements Ministers discussed progress toward renewing the Memoranda of Agreement between Australia and Singapore on the use of the Shoalwater Bay Training Area and arrangements governing the operation of the SAF's flying training school at Royal Australian Air Force Base Pearce. Ministers reaffirmed the mutual benefits of such arrangements.

Police Cooperation Ministers noted the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Combating Transnational Crime and Developing Police Cooperation between the Singapore Police Force and Australian Federal Police in Canberra in October 2012, as well as the convening of the inaugural and second SPF-AFP Annual Exchanges in October 2012 and November 2013.

Nuclear/Radiological cooperation Ministers noted the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs' Office of the Chief Science and Technology Officer and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation in November 2012 to collaborate in nuclear science and technology.

Other bilateral cooperation

Public Service Roundtable Ministers noted the convening of the third Australia-Singapore Public Service Roundtable from 10-11 June 2013. They welcomed the convening of the fourth Roundtable in September 2014 which would discuss health and government services for the public.

Sports Cooperation Ministers welcomed efforts to deepen bilateral linkages and promote exchanges in the sports sector through a three-year Memorandum of Understanding on sports cooperation signed between the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Singapore and the then Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport in June 2013.

Regional Developments and Cooperation

40th anniversary of ASEAN-Australia Dialogue Partnership Ministers welcomed the 40th anniversary of the ASEAN-Australia dialogue partnership this year, which presents an opportunity for Australia and ASEAN to take stock of the achievements in ASEAN-Australia relations and set strategic directions for the future of the partnership. They looked forward to the ASEAN-Australian Leaders' 40th Anniversary Commemorative Summit to be convened in November in Nay Pyi Taw, with a view to considering more regular summits in future.

ASEAN Community Ministers reaffirmed the importance of ASEAN's central role in the regional architecture. They welcomed Australia's continued support for ASEAN's regional integration agenda and the creation of the ASEAN Community on 31 December 2015.

Open and Inclusive Regional Architecture Ministers underscored the importance of safeguarding ASEAN unity and centrality in the evolving regional architecture and agreed on the importance of ensuring a rules-based, open and inclusive regional architecture, including the EAS, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the ADMM-Plus.

EAS Priority Areas Ministers agreed on the importance of deepening cooperation to help foster a stable strategic environment, including through practical cooperation in the six EAS priority areas of environment and energy, education, health, disaster management, finance and ASEAN Connectivity. Singapore Ministers appreciated Australia's strong support for the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC), in particular through the ASEAN-Australia Connectivity Workshop that Singapore successfully co-hosted with Australia on 26 May 2014.

South China Sea Ministers underscored the shared interests of Australia and ASEAN in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, freedom of navigation and overflight as well as unimpeded trade in the South China Sea. They called on all parties concerned to resolve the disputes in the South China Sea peacefully in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). They urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from actions that could increase tensions. They also emphasised the need for ASEAN and China to make substantive progress on a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, as well as actions that can be taken now to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Five Power Defence Arrangements Ministers reaffirmed the continuing importance and relevance of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) to regional security.

Regional Cooperation on People Smuggling Ministers welcomed regional efforts to address irregular migration and trafficking in persons, such as through the Bali Process.

Conclusion

Australian and Singapore Ministers looked forward to the forthcoming visit to Australia by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in November 2014 for the G20 Summit in Brisbane. The Ministers also welcomed Prime Minister Tony Abbott to make an official visit to Singapore in 2015, the fiftieth anniversary of Singapore's independence and of the bilateral relationship.

Australian Ministers invited their Singapore counterparts to Australia for the Ninth SAJMC in 2016.

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