- The establishment of a free trade area between the EU and Singapore is expected to have significant benefits for Singapore and EU companies. Annual EU exports to Singapore could rise by EUR 1.4 billion over 10 years and annual exports by Singapore companies (including EU companies based in Singapore) could rise by EUR 3.5 billion.
- Key arrangements include elimination of customs duties and relaxation or elimination of regulatory and technical requirements and further market liberalization.
- The agreement also provides for consolidation of existing protection of Intellectual Property, standards of labour and environmental law, promotion of sustainable development and an improved dispute resolution mechanism.
- This agreement may act as a catalyst for the establishment of more free trade areas between the EU and ASEAN member states, and in the long-term an agreement between the EU and all ASEAN countries.
The European Union and Singapore have initialled an agreement to establish a free trade area between the EU and Singapore after several years of negotiations. The EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (“EUSFTA”) is expected to enter into force in late 2014 or early 2015 and will give Singapore and EU companies further access to each other’s markets.
The EUSFTA is expected to have significant benefits for Dutch and other EU companies exporting products or services into Singapore, as well as for companies that have operations in Singapore (including Dutch and other EU companies) and import into the EU. The EUSFTA will also benefit the services industry, with improved possibilities to penetrate the Singapore market, re-establishing a level playing field with other foreign industry players.
Under the EUSFTA, there will be enhanced public procurement opportunities which should increase business opportunities in various sectors in which Dutch companies are active around the world. The EUSFTA is also considered an important step towards bilateral free trade agreements between the EU and other ASEAN member states.
This Legal Alert highlights the EUSFTA’s main features.
Trade barriers removed: best treatment approach
Free trade agreements remove trade barriers by eliminating customs duties, relaxing or eliminating regulatory and technical requirements and liberalising markets. The EU and Singapore, under the EUSFTA, are to grant each other favourable arrangements at least on par with comparable free trade agreements. Some of the key arrangements are outlined below.
Elimination of customs duties:
- The EU is to eliminate virtually all customs duties for imports from Singapore within five years, with 75-80% of the duties being eliminated when the EUSFTA enters into force. Currently, approximately half of the imports from Singapore into the EU are free of customs duties.
- Singapore is to continue the existing status of no customs duties on most EU imports into Singapore and eliminate remaining customs duties, such as the current customs duties on beer. Singapore, as part of its open economy strategy, already unilaterally applies no duties to most imports. The EUSFTA will provide comfort to EU exporters that this situation will not change.
Relaxation or elimination of regulatory and technical requirements and further market liberalisation:
- Further access to the services market for both Singapore and the EU, including for the financial and insurance sectors, engineering and maritime transport
- Mutual recognition of technical standards and certifications in different areas, such as cars, electronics and green technologies; and reduction of technical barriers to trade, including beneficial rules on marking and labelling, reducing the barriers and associated costs
- Simplification of customs procedures and rules of origin, reducing trade transaction costs, while improving cooperation for the safety and security of legitimate trade
- Re-evaluation and updating of Singapore’s import approval procedures for raw or processed products of animal and plant origin, in particular meat
- Greater transparency over the award of licences
- Improved transparency on pricing of / reimbursement for pharmaceutical products
- Improvement of level playing field through rules on competition, including antitrust and state aid, and avoidance of detrimental licensing requirements affecting market accessibility and competition
- Widening of access to public procurement, expanding parties’ existing commitments under the WTO
- Government Procurement Agreement
The EUSFTA also provides for:
- Consolidation of existing protection of Intellectual Property, and agreement on the basic rules of (noncriminal) enforcement; and better protection for geographical indications (GI) for European products in Singapore
- Detailed arrangements regarding standards of law in the area of labour and the environment
- Promotion of sustainable development including corporate and civil social responsibility
- An improved dispute resolution mechanism, reducing time required and increasing transparency
Significant economic benefits for EU and Singapore companies
Singapore, with a population of 5.3 million, accounts for approximately one-third of all the trade between the EU and the ASEAN countries, making Singapore the EU’s largest trading partner in ASEAN (which has a consumer base of some 600 million people). There are more than 9,000 European companies established in Singapore. In 2012 the EU was the second largest trading partner of Singapore (after neighboring Malaysia) with an 11% share of Singapore’s total trade.
The Netherlands is an important economic partner to Singapore. Dutch companies in Singapore are involved in a wide range of industries, such as electronics, fast-moving consumer goods, food processing, oil & gas, chemicals, engineering, transport, financial and other services. In 2012, the Netherlands was Singapore’s third largest trading partner in the EU.
An economic analysis prepared by the Chief Economist Unit of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Trade states that as a result of the EUSFTA the annual EU exports to Singapore could rise by EUR 1.4 billion over 10 years and annual exports by Singapore companies (including EU companies based in Singapore) by EUR 3.5 billion.
Expected catalyst for free trade agreements with other ASEAN member states
The EU and ASEAN countries started discussions on a free trade agreement in 2007. Following slow progress the EU abandoned discussions in 2009 and started pursuing bilateral agreements. The EU is currently pursuing negotiations on bilateral free trade agreements with ASEAN members Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. The detailed arrangements negotiated between the EU and Singapore can be expected to assist those negotiations, acting as a catalyst for the establishment of more free trade areas between the EU and ASEAN member states, and in the long-term an agreement between the EU and all ASEAN countries.
The draft EUSFTA is currently being translated into all official EU languages and will then be submitted for approval / ratification by the relevant authorities of the EU and Singapore.
The EU and Singapore are currently still negotiating arrangements on investment protection. The initialed version of the EUSFTA already includes an empty chapter for this topic and parties intend to include the outcome of these negotiations in the EUSFTA before it enters into force.
UK UPDATE – Understanding and Dealing with Hedge Funds and Shareholder Activism Across Europe: The Impact of the Financial Crisis
The attached guide takes a pan-European look at trends and developments through the 2008 financial crisis and in the period since, focusing on:
- the position of hedge funds: their behaviour, performance and strategies in that period, as well as the changed regulatory landscape they now face, and
- activist behaviour by both hedge funds and other investors during that period.
EU UPDATE – European Commission Considers Whether All Chinese SOEs should be Considered a Single Economic Entity for Merger Clearance Purposes
The European Commission recently issued clearance under the merger control rules for the proposed joint venture between DSM and Sinochem. The Commission considered the question of whether all Chinese State-Owned Enterprises (so called “SOEs”) should be considered a single economic entity, but left the question open for future determination after concluding that even if all Chinese SOEs act as one entity, in the DSM/Sinopec case the combined market share would remain moderate, and there would still be sufficient competition in the relevant market from a range of large independent competitors. Future cases will be determined on a case by case basis, with the essential test being whether the SOE has independent commercial decision-making power. It is noteworthy that while in prior press releases the Commission seemed to indicate that a difference exists between SOEs managed by the central SASAC and those by local SASACs, in DSM/Sinochem, the Commission did not make such a distinction but considered the market position of all Chinese SOEs active in the sector.
Sinochem is one of the largest Chinese SOEs and is involved in agricultural and chemical products, energy, real estate and finance. DSM is a global life sciences and materials sciences company headquartered in theNetherlands. Their joint venture will be mainly active in the field of certain antibiotics products. The Proposed Transaction was notified to the Commission on 8 April 2011.
This notification is the latest clearance granted by the European Commission (the “Commission”) involving a Chinese SOE. Commissioner Almunia, in a recent speech at the International Competition Law Forum, also specifically mentioned two other cases: the acquisition of Elkem by China National Bluestar and the acquisition of Intergen by Huaneng. All three cases involve a Chinese SOE and a non-Chinese company. They were all decided in 2011.
Independent commercial decision-making power test for SOEs
When dealing with SOEs (irrespective of nationality) under the EU merger control rules, the Commission will have to assess whether the SOE concerned should be viewed as an undertaking in its own right or as part of a larger “single economic entity” including other SOEs. This is relevant both for calculating the turnover of the SOE and for assessing the substantive competition concerns that the transaction may cause: the Commission will aggregate the market shares of all SOEs forming part of the same single economic entity for the purpose of calculating the market share of the SOE.
When assessing concentration involving private parties, the Commission will typically consider the ultimate parent company of a group together with all of its subsidiaries (which are deemed to be “controlled” by the ultimate parent) to constitute a single economic entity. Since by its very nature, an SOE is controlled by the State, the usual “control” test is not appropriate in the case of SOEs. The essential test is whether the SOE has independent commercial decision-making power and if not, what other undertakings should also be included in the scope. This principle has been set forth in the so-called Jurisdictional Notice of the Commission.
In the past, the Commission has applied the test mainly in analysing SOEs in Europe, such as in France, Spain and Italy. Recently, the Commission also applied the test in the context of Chinese SOEs, partly as a result of their increasing outbound investment activities and increasing turnover generated outside China. In China, SOEs are managed by the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (the “SASAC”). At national level, the central SASAC is a government agency under the State Council (the central government in China). At provincial and local level, the local SASACs are part of provincial and local governments. Among all SOEs, more than 100 SOEs are managed by the central SASAC and the rest (more than 12,000) are managed by the local SASACs.
Is there a “China Co”?
The Commission has adopted a rather cautious approach in examining the relationship between Chinese SOEs and SASAC and also the relationship between Chinese SOEs managed by the central SASAC and those managed by local SASACs. The Commission looked into the decision-making process, the relevant laws and regulations inChina, and the history of coordination by the State intervention. In this connection, the Commission not only viewed possible coordination by SASAC, but also into possible coordination by other bodies of theChineseState, such as Ministries or Chambers of Commerce.
In the two earlier cases, the Commission left the question of the composition of single economy entity open, as it would not change the conclusion of lack of competition concerns in the relevant markets. In DSM/Sinochem, the Commission also did not adopt a final position as to the exact scope of the “single economy entity” involving Sinochem. The Commission adopted a cautious approach also in the light of responses from market players that expressed concerns over possible coordination between Chinese SOEs in the field of antibiotics.
For these reasons, the Commission conducted its substantive analysis based on two alternative scenarios where: (1) Sinochem is deemed as a single economic entity with independent decision-making power, and (2) all Chinese SOEs act as one entity in the sector concerned. The Commission reached the conclusion that even if all Chinese SOEs act as one entity, in the present case the combined market share would remain moderate, and there would still be sufficient competition in the relevant market from a range of large independent competitors. Therefore, the Proposed Transaction would not lead to competition concerns.
It is noteworthy that in the press release of Bluestar/Elkem, the Commission seemed to indicate that a difference exists between SOEs managed by the central SASAC and those by local SASACs. However, in DSM/Sinochem, the Commission did not make such a distinction but considered the market position of all Chinese SOEs active in the sector.
Future filings involving Chinese SOEs
Commissioner Almunia stated in the same speech thatEuropewill not import principles and practices from the non-market economy countries. Instead, it will apply its rules to all companies irrespective of nationality.
The Commission has thus far not provided a definite answer as to whether a Chinese SOE is a single economic entity or whether all Chinese SOEs are to be considered as one entity. It adopts a case-by-case approach which unavoidably requires more information and data for the assessment.
Currently, there are cases still pending involving Chinese SOEs before the Commission and the parties have been required to provide a broad range of information and data, not only for the SOE concerned but also for all other SOEs active on the same market.
Companies should be prepared to devote additional time and resources in the pre-consultation period and may consider collecting a broader scope of information even before contacting the Commission. It will facilitate communication and the filing process with the Commission and thus prevent unnecessary delays.
The attached slides summarize trends in cross-border M&A and strategic investment activity throughout the first quarter of 2011.
- Global M&A volume for Q1 2011 was US$671.8 billion, up 29.5% as compared to Q1 2010.
- Cross-border transactions have rebounded substantially from 2009: 38% of Q1 2011 global M&A was cross-border — up slightly from 37% in 2010 and up significantly from the low of 26.8% in 2009.
- Canada and Australia’s shares of global M&A each more than double their respective shares of world GDP, perhaps reflecting the large number of deals involving natural resources.
- Distressed deals have exceeded US$75 billion per annum since 2009.
- Energy M&A remains the most active among cross-border transactions – reflecting the ongoing pressure to acquire natural resources to fuel emerging economies and the churn created by political instability in the Middle East and by the widespread adoption of technological improvements in the natural gas industry – with Materials and Financials cross-border M&A in the second tier.