- Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs Singapore
- Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence Singapore
- Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Trade and Industry Singapore
- Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women
- The Hon Dan Tehan MP, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment
1. Singapore and Australia Ministers met virtually for the 12th meeting of the Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee (SAJMC) on 27 August 2021. The Ministers reaffirmed the longstanding and strong partnership between Singapore and Australia, anchored by strategic trust and economic cooperation, and underpinned by the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP). They acknowledged the unique nature of the SAJMC’s 3+3 Ministerial mechanism to both countries and the key role it has played over the past two decades in strengthening bilateral cooperation.
2. The Ministers reaffirmed their shared commitment to continue strengthening the CSP, which has made significant strides since its inception in 2015, in an increasingly uncertain and complex strategic environment. Both sides have jointly completed more than 80 initiatives across the five pillars of cooperation: economics, trade and investment; digital economy; foreign affairs, defence and security; science and innovation; and people-to-people links. The Ministers welcomed the good progress in the CSP over the past year in spite of the challenges presented by COVID-19. To keep the CSP forward-looking and ambitious, they also agreed to expand cooperation in emerging areas, including the green economy and FinTech.
3. Ministers agreed that Australia and Singapore are like-minded countries with a high degree of strategic trust. They affirmed that our partnership is even more important at a time of increasing uncertainty and complexity in the regional strategic environment. They underlined the importance of an open, inclusive, rules-based and resilient Indo-Pacific region, which supports and promotes free trade and open markets and respects the rights of countries to lead their national existence free from external interference, subversion and coercion. Australia and Singapore share a vision for the region that is consistent with the principles of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, including ASEAN Centrality, openness, transparency, inclusivity, good governance, a rules-based framework, and respect for sovereignty and international law. Ministers had a fruitful exchange of views and reaffirmed their commitment to promote regional stability and respect for rules and international law.
Economics, Trade and Investment
4. The Ministers reaffirmed the close and long-standing bilateral and regional economic relationship that both countries share, built on the upgraded Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), which was signed in December 2017, as well as the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA), which is currently undergoing an upgrade. Noting the achievements under the SAFTA side letter on mutual recognition agreements, the Ministers welcomed the signing of a mutual recognition agreement between our professional accountancy bodies and look forward to progress on further mutual recognition agreements between our professional bodies as identified in the upgraded SAFTA.
5. The Ministers recognised the good cooperation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As trusted and reliable trade partners, both countries have cooperated to ensure the resilience of our food, medical and other essential supplies. Singapore and Australia, together with a number of countries, issued a Joint Ministerial Statement affirming Commitment to Ensuring Supply Chain Connectivity amidst the COVID-19 situation issued in March 2020, and the Joint Ministerial Statement on Action Plans to Facilitate the Flow of Goods and Services as well as the Essential Movement of People issued in May 2020. Singapore Airlines has been participating in Australia’s International Freight Assistance Mechanism, which has allowed the continued export of Australian agricultural produce to Singapore as well as other overseas markets.
6. The Ministers welcomed the signing of the MOUs on electronic certification cooperation and cooperation in food safety and standards in March 2020. They agreed to explore the mutual recognition of inspection regimes, which will facilitate the regional trade of food, as well as further food safety collaboration, including in novel foods and alternative proteins. The Ministers noted that the Singapore Food Agency and Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment will be forming a Working Group to work out the legal provisions and export certification required for transhipments with a view to facilitate regional food trade.
7. The Ministers recognised the need for new capacities to address climate change, as well as potential for economic growth and job creation in new green sectors. In that regard, the Ministers welcomed the agreement between the Prime Ministers at the 6th Leaders’ Meeting in June 2021 to explore a bilateral Green Economy Agreement (GEA), which would facilitate trade and investment in environmental goods and services, strengthen environmental governance, and contribute efforts to build global capacity to address climate change. The Ministers agreed to establishing a Joint GEA Working Group to facilitate scoping discussions in September 2021, with a view to launching formal GEA negotiations by 1 October 2021.
8. The Ministers welcomed the establishment of a dedicated Digital Economy pillar under the CSP in March 2020. They recognised the significance and ambition of the Singapore-Australia Digital Economy Agreement (SADEA), which entered into force in December 2020, to support growth of the digital economy and enable firms to operate seamlessly using common and interoperable standards. They welcomed ongoing cooperation under the SADEA in areas such as artificial intelligence, data innovation, trade facilitation, exchange of e-certifications for agricultural products and e-invoicing. The Ministers noted the successful conclusion of a trial, conducted together with businesses, using blockchain to prove trade documents can be issued and verified digitally across two independent systems. Building on the SADEA, the Ministers noted that both sides have commenced discussions on a FinTech Bridge to enhance bilateral FinTech cooperation. Australia and Singapore look forward to holding a Dialogue on Digital Economy, under the auspices of the SADEA. Both sides reaffirmed their support for an inclusive regional digital trade agreement.
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security
9. The Ministers noted the significant deepening in the bilateral defence relationship. Most notable were the entry into force of the Treaty on Military Training and Training Area Development in 2020. The Ministers expressed their satisfaction that, despite the pandemic, the Singapore Armed Forces’ training such as the Exercise Wallaby 2021, and Republic of Singapore Air Force detachments, as well as the joint development of training areas and advanced training facilities in Queensland, are progressing as scheduled; and Singapore continues to provide support for Australian aircraft and ships in the region. They welcomed the commitment, close cooperation and support of both countries in the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) and reaffirmed their commitment to the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), which will mark its 50th anniversary this year.
10. The Ministers acknowledged the deepening security cooperation, including on counter-terrorism (CT), cybersecurity and critical technology issues. Both countries maintain close contact on CT issues through the annual bilateral CT dialogue, which remains a valuable platform to exchange views on managing the evolving terrorism threat. Australia remains committed to support Singapore’s efforts for CT through the deployment of an Australian liaison officer to the Counter-Terrorism Information Facility in Singapore. Both countries also maintain close bilateral and regional cooperation on cybersecurity issues, and have forged close cooperation in international cyber discussions at the United Nations. The Ministers welcomed the renewal of the MOUs on cooperation in cybersecurity and CT in March and June 2020 respectively, and looked forward to the conclusion of the MOU on homeland security operational science and technology cooperation. The Ministers acknowledged the growing importance of leveraging emerging and critical technologies to advance national security and promote economic progress whilst enabling social cohesion. They recognised that cyberspace and critical technologies are pivotal to our shared goal of a safe, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region and world.
Science and Innovation
11. The Ministers welcomed the signing of the MOU on Low-Emissions Solutions in October 2020, which is a positive first step in cooperating in the area of emerging low-emissions technologies. Driven by their mutual support for an effective global response to climate change, the Ministers noted that the MOU will accelerate the development and uptake of new and emerging low emissions technologies with collaboration on hydrogen, carbon capture, utilisation and storage, renewable energy trade, and emissions measurement, reporting and verification (MRV). They reaffirmed support and noted progress made on the partnership, particularly the announcement by Prime Ministers at the 6th Leaders’ Meeting in June 2021, to establish a $30 million partnership to accelerate the deployment of low emissions fuels and technologies, like zero or low-emissions hydrogen, to reduce emissions in maritime and port operations.
12. The Ministers welcomed the launch of the pilot phase of the A*STAR-CSIRO Research-Industry (2+2) Partnership in October 2020 to promote bilateral collaborations in Science, Technology and Innovation. They took note of the successful conclusion of the 1st Singapore-Australia Bilateral Programme on “Innovations in Food for Precision Health” in June 2021, which was launched by A*STAR and CSIRO to strengthen R&D cooperation on the health and safety impact of food innovation as well as consumer’s attitudes and behaviours towards novel foods and technologies. The Ministers also welcomed the new MOU signed by the health ministries in June 2021 to enhance cooperation in healthcare and health technologies, which will facilitate deeper exchanges of information, knowledge and expertise to support timely and affordable access to medicines and health technologies for Singaporeans and Australians.
13. The Ministers reaffirmed the warm and close personal links between the peoples of Singapore and Australia. They agreed on the importance of safely reopening borders based on medical advice to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and maintaining people-to-people links between the two countries. They welcomed the ongoing discussions between officials to work out the detailed operational requirements for the resumption of regular two-way air travel by the end of this year. This work will include the interoperability of our respective high-quality health and vaccination certificate systems. As announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison during his recent visit to Singapore, Australia would prioritise the return of Singapore students enrolled in Australian universities. In this regard, the Ministers discussed ways to facilitate the return of Singapore students to Australia to resume their studies as soon as possible.
14. The Ministers noted the strong arts and cultural cooperation between both countries. The Australia-Singapore Arts Group held its 6th meeting virtually in November 2020, and convened a very successful 3rd Cultural Leaders’ Forum attended by key cultural leaders from both countries and ASEAN member states. The Ministers also welcomed the renewal of the MOU between the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in June 2021, which is a testament that cultural exchanges continue to flourish amid COVID-19 through innovative and digital ways of working and performing together.
15. The Ministers reaffirmed the close and substantive exchanges between our public services, anchored by the renewal of the MOU on cooperation between the Singapore Public Service Division and the Australian Public Service Commission in August 2020. They noted the productive discussions at the 7th Public Service Roundtable in July 2021, during which both sides exchanged views on tackling the common challenges faced by our respective public services, particularly on the strategies to deal with an endemic COVID-19, and the continued transformation of the public service to meet the needs of tomorrow.
Regional Cooperation and Global Developments
16. The Ministers exchanged views on regional cooperation and global developments. They discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, agreed to continue working closely to keep supply chains functioning, and reiterated the importance of equitable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. They encouraged the sharing of good practices and strengthening of cooperation in countering the spread of COVID-19 disinformation and misinformation which can cause serious harm.
17. They agreed to strengthen ASEAN-Australia relations, and reaffirmed their commitment to ASEAN Centrality and the ASEAN-led regional architecture, including the East Asia Summit as the region’s premier Leaders-led forum for strategic discussion and cooperation. Ministers welcomed Australia-Singapore cooperation on marine plastics debris in the East Asia Summit. They recognised the contribution of ASEAN-Australia cooperation to regional stability, resilience and prosperity, and discussed Australia’s support to the region’s recovery from COVID-19 through the AUD523.2 million Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative and AUD21 million of support for the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.
18. The Ministers reaffirmed the importance of supporting free trade and open markets, as the world transitions from “pandemic to endemic”. Increasing global trade and investment linkages will continue to support countries in their individual journeys of economic restoration and recovery. In that regard, the Ministers agreed to work closely to support free trade at multilateral platforms and initiatives such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the G20. The Ministers also agreed to continue to work with partners in the region to protect and strengthen the open, rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at its core. Both sides looked forward to the early entry into force of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which would further secure the region’s recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19.
19. The Ministers expressed concern about the death toll and continued violence in Myanmar, especially against unarmed civilians, as well as the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation amidst the third wave of COVID-19 in the country. They called for an immediate cessation of violence, the release of all political detainees including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and inclusive dialogue between all parties to seek a durable and peaceful solution in the interests of the people of Myanmar. They also called for the immediate release of foreign political detainees, including Australian Professor Sean Turnell. They agreed that the priority is for the Tatmadaw to follow through with its commitment at the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting in April 2021 to fully and effectively implement the Five-Point Consensus as soon as possible, including the provision of humanitarian assistance to be coordinated by the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre). The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate through the AHA Centre to provide humanitarian assistance to Myanmar. They also reaffirmed their support for Minister of Foreign Affairs II of Brunei Darussalam as the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar in his work on the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus and looked forward to his visit to Myanmar, to meet with all parties concerned.
20. The Ministers reaffirmed their shared commitment to maintain and promote peace, security and stability in the region, as well as the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is universal in character and sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. They underlined Singapore and Australia’s strong support for the right of freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded trade in the South China Sea. They also reaffirmed the importance of compliance with the relevant Standards and Recommended Practices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the relevant instruments and conventions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). They emphasised the importance of non-militarisation of disputed features and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability. They urged all claimants to take meaningful steps to ease tensions and build trust, including through dialogue. The Ministers acknowledged work towards a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and emphasised the importance of the Code being effective and consistent with international law, including UNCLOS, and not prejudicial to the legitimate rights and interests of other States under the UNCLOS.
21. The Ministers expressed deep concern over the rapidly evolving and dangerous situation in Afghanistan. They called on the Taliban and all other parties to respect and facilitate the safe and orderly departure of those who wish to leave the country. They further called on all parties to protect the safety and security of civilians, adhere to international humanitarian law and respect human rights obligations, particularly to women and girls. Ministers strongly condemned the terrorist attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport and expressed deepest sympathies to all affected including United States personnel and Afghan civilians.