Summary: A Singaporean Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in Africa may be possible soon, and the benefits could be significant if the risks and opportunities are understood. Technical assistance could be an interim measure if partners are not ready.
Some eight years ago, trade and cultural relations between Africa and Singapore were limited to the presence of a few companies in the continent. Today, Singapore is very much a critical component in Africa’s foreign outreach and the island nation’s prime minister is due to make his first official visit to the continent in October.
Singapore has its eyes on the East Africa Community (EAC). The economic bloc is formed by Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and is home to more than 157 million citizens. The EAC had a combined GDP of US$147bn in 2014 and an average annual GDP growth of over 6% projected for the coming two years. Huge investment opportunities arise there at an increasingly fast rate and Singapore is taking steps to grow in this market.
Singapore is the home of CrimsonLogic, an information and communication technologies (ICT) company founded in 1988. Within only six years of its creation, it was already taking its first steps on the African continent.
Despite Singapore’s growing trade and investment partnerships with Africa, there have been no free trade agreements (FTAs) between the city state and the African continent. Rather, both parties have agreed to a number of bilateral investment treaties, primarily concerned with private investments and double taxation avoidance treaties. By using Singapore as a successful model of a trading nation that benefits from FTAs, this article seeks to examine the reasons why African countries have not successfully implemented FTAs with Singapore. It also considers what needs to be done to facilitate both intra- and inter-trade in Africa.