Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Joint Press Conference with Australian PM Scott Morrison on 7 June 2019.
Prime Minister Morrison, friends, ladies and gentlemen. Very good morning to all of you.
First, may I once again welcome PM Morrison to Singapore with his delegation. He was last here in November for the ASEAN-related meetings. I am very happy that he has made Singapore the first country in Asia to visit, on his first overseas trip and soon after winning the Australian federal election, for which we congratulate him.
I am happy to take stock of our excellent bilateral relationship with PM Morrison today. We have made good progress implementing our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the CSP, concluded in 2015. Last year our bilateral trade grew by one quarter year-on-year, and I hope it will continue to grow with the upgraded FTA which came into force two years ago. Tourism has grown substantially too – there were 1.1 million Australians who visited us last year, and about 400,000 Singaporeans who visited Australia, so that is a thriving business. We appreciate Australia’s generous support for our military training, including in New South Wales, PM Morrison’s home state.
PM Morrison and I hope to take our relationship further. We are jointly developing military training areas in Queensland, and look forward to finalising this agreement through a treaty this year. We welcome Australia’s increase of the Work Holiday Visa Programme spaces for Singaporeans from 500 to 2,500. I raised with PM Morrison two items which we had agreed to do under the CSP. One is to conclude the Open Skies Agreement and the other is to update our Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, which is celebrating its golden anniversary this year, because it was concluded in 1969 and has not since been revised. Under the CSP, we had agreed to do both of these by 2022, so I told PM Morrison that I hope our officials can begin discussions on these subjects soon.
We also explored other areas, new areas of collaboration, for example in cybersecurity, food security and the digital economy. Discussions on the digital economy are still at an early stage but there is scope to deepen our collaboration particularly in areas like e-invoicing, digital identities, e-payments and artificial intelligence. The two of us have tasked our Trade Ministers to lead these efforts and to find ways where we can break new ground and to report back to us by October this year. This will pave the way for a new form of economic engagement and trade.
We also exchanged views on regional and global issues. Australia is already firmly linked to the regional architecture, as an ASEAN Dialogue Partner and a member of the East Asia Summit. I welcomed Australia’s continued deep engagement of the region and thanked PM Morrison for Australia’s firm support for ASEAN. Australia is one of a few countries with whom we meet at the leaders’ level every year. We are natural partners – Australia and Singapore. We see eye to eye on many issues, including the importance of an open, rules-based and inclusive multilateral trading system. I have enjoyed good relations with every Australian Prime Minister who has been my counterpart, and I fully expect to continue to do so with PM Morrison. I am happy that we are able to meet so early in his new term, to give fresh impetus to our relationship and look forward to working with him and his government to strengthen our relations further.
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