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Joint Op-Ed by Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Singapore Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Portuguese Republic Augusto Santos Silva

First published online by The Straits Times on 7 January 2021.




This Op-Ed is written on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Portugal.


              Relations between Portugal and Southeast Asia date back to the early 16th century when trade, cultural, linguistic, and people-to-people interactions started to take shape. Thus, when Portugal and Singapore established diplomatic relations on 7 January 1981, we were able to draw upon a legacy of close to five centuries of interaction and cooperation between our two peoples. It also heralded a new chapter of mutually beneficial collaboration.


As maritime nations with longstanding interests in promoting free trade, connectivity and resilient supply chains, we place great importance in protecting our oceans, which are critical for supporting life on our planet for present and future generations. We strive to maintain and increase efforts, at all levels, to preserve, conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources in accordance with international law. This includes the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out and is of strategic importance as the basis for national, regional and global action and cooperation in the maritime sector. In that regard, we look forward to the upcoming UN Ocean Conference taking place in Lisbon and co-hosted by Kenya and Portugal, under the theme, “Scaling Up Ocean Action Based on Science and Innovation”.


Portugal and Singapore are firm believers of a rules-based multilateral system, with the UN at its core. We are committed to working with each other and the broader international community to update and reform multilateral institutions – including the UN – where appropriate to keep these institutions open, inclusive, transparent, and fit for purpose to reflect current geo-political and economic realities.


Singapore and Portugal have embraced two of the core principles of the UN Charter: to cooperate to spearhead the economic and social progress of our peoples; and to support the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means.


We believe that international cooperation is essential to effectively counter the challenges of our times, including pandemics, climate change and sustainable development, violent extremism and terrorism, the maintenance of supply chain connectivity for essential goods, and non-traditional security challenges including cybersecurity.


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharper relief the fact that we are but one humanity sharing the same planet. Ultimately, no one is safe, until everyone is safe. We therefore strongly support vaccine multilateralism and, in that context, the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, which seeks to maximise fair and equitable access and allocation of vaccines to all countries worldwide.


ASEAN-EU relations continue to grow from strength to strength with the upgrade to an ASEAN-EU Strategic Partnership at the 23rd ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting in December 2020. As the current ASEAN Country Coordinator for ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relations and  President of the Council of the EU in the first semester of 2021 respectively, Singapore and Portugal will work towards enhancing ASEAN-EU relations.


We look forward to further strengthening the partnership for the benefit of our peoples, including building on existing bilateral agreements between the EU and ASEAN Member States and move quickly to finalise a region-to-region Free Trade Agreement (FTA). It would complement recent developments to enhance trade liberalisation, including the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, which comprises approximately a third of the world’s population and 30% of global GDP. We also look forward to the expeditious conclusion of the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA), which will be a landmark agreement as the first bloc-to-bloc air services agreement. The CATA will be a strong statement of our commitment to rebuilding air connectivity and supporting the recovery of our aviation and travel sectors in the wake of COVID-19.


The 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries presents a great opportunity to celebrate what we have achieved in past decades and to look forward to what we can do together in many priority areas such as sustainable development, urban mobility, the digital economy, port development, agrifood, and tourism. We shall also work towards fostering stronger trade and cultural ties, as well as more people-to-people exchanges. In this regard, Singapore is pleased that Portugal intends to explore educational collaboration in areas of mutual interest. To build on existing links for the future, both sides will continue to promote mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields and exchange perspectives on international issues of mutual interests.


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