BRUSSELS: The ratification process for the free trade agreement between Singapore and the European Union is now in its final stages, in what Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing described as a “critical juncture” for Singapore to convince the EU officials on the strategic and economic benefits the deal will bring. Mr Chan was speaking at the sidelines of his meetings with key EU officials and representatives during his visit to Brussels on Wednesday (11 July). These officials include Austrian Federal Minister for Digital and Economic Affairs Dr Margarete Schramböck, EU Trade Commissioner Ms Cecilia Malmström and EUSFTA Rapporteur Mr David Martin, among others. During the meetings, Mr Chan reaffirmed Singapore’s interest in the expeditious ratification of the EUSFTA and held discussions about the latest developments on trade policy. The aim is for the agreement to come into force by next year before the European Commission’s mandate ends. Mr Chan said the conclusion of the agreement is crucial, especially against the backdrop of the trade conflict between the US and China, which Mr Chan described as a spat that could “significantly impact” Singapore’s open economy. “In the current climate of protectionism and unilateralism, it is in our common interest to send a strong and powerful statement to the rest of the world that we have like-minded partners that continue to believe in the free, open and rule-based multilateral system,” he said. The US on Wednesday threatened to impose tariffs on US$200 billion in Chinese imports, with Beijing vowing countermeasures in retaliation. This would be the third round of tariffs on Chinese goods imposed by the Trump administration and comes shortly after US tariffs on US$34 billion worth of Chinese goods kicked in last Friday. Mr Chan also said the EU-Singapore pact will act as a pathfinder for other Asian countries. “Many of the ASEAN and Asian countries will be looking at Singapore and the EU and say that if Singapore and EU can do it, then there’s always hope for the rest of the countries to have similar agreements with the EU to benefit their economies and people,” he said. But if the free trade agreement does not come about, Mr Chan said these countries may lose confidence and question the EU’s commitment to the ASEAN region.