EU and Singapore agree free trade deal

Updated 17 December 2012
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EU and Singapore agree free trade deal

BRUSSELS: The European Union and Singapore agreed terms of a free trade deal yesterday, a move that should further open the Asian country's markets for financial services and make it easier for European automakers to export there.
"We have finalized the negotiations, and I'm very pleased with the result," EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told Reuters by telephone from Singapore.
After the completion of negotiations by the European Commission, the EU executive, member states and the European Parliament need to sign off for the agreement to come into force.
Though EU countries have in the past sometimes rejected such deals for political reasons, this is unlikely to happen with Singapore, as EU leaders in October called for a swift conclusion of negotiations.
"I don't expect that many problems," De Gucht said, adding he hoped for finalization by the end of 2013.
The bloc hopes the agreement will give it better access to Singapore, one of Asia's richest countries per head of population, where currently the United States enjoys preferential access.
Singapore has a population of only 5 million, but it is also a gateway to the 600 million people in the fast-growing economies of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The EU is the city state's second biggest trade partner after neighboring Malaysia, with bilateral trade in goods amounting to 46 billion euros ($ 60 billion) in 2011. The EU had a trade surplus of 8 billion euros, with cars making up a large chunk of its exports.
Singapore's import tariffs are low. The deal will remove non-tariff barriers such as the double testing of cars, as Singapore would start to recognize EU standards, EU officials say.
Other key benefits would be the further opening of Singapore's banking and financial services sector, as well as better access to its public procurement markets.
The push for free trade agreements comes as the EU struggles with a sovereign debt crisis and tries to supplement stagnant domestic consumer demand with free trade pacts with major economies.
A deal with South Korea came into effect last year and one with Canada is near completion. EU trade ministers agreed in November to start negotiations with Japan, while preliminary talks are underway for an agreement with the United States.
EU trade officials want the Singapore deal to set a precedent for trade deals with other countries in ASEAN. The EU is currently negotiating free trade pacts with Malaysia and Vietnam, and hopes one day to forge a region-to-region trade agreement.
"What I think is more important" than just trade with Singapore, said De Gucht, is "setting a number of standards in services that we will try to enlarge to the whole region".


British court dismisses charges against Barclays over 2008 Qatar deal

Updated 19 min 34 sec ago
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British court dismisses charges against Barclays over 2008 Qatar deal

LONDON: A British court has dismissed charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) against Barclays over its 2008 capital raising, the bank said on Monday, suspending for now the threat of regulatory sanctions on its business operations.
The SFO was however not prepared to let the case drop.
“We are likely to seek to reinstate the charges by applying to the High Court,” an SFO spokesman said. It was not clear when that application would be heard.
Barclays denied the SFO’s allegation that a $3 billion loan it made to Qatar in November 2008 was connected with a Qatari investment in the British bank which ultimately helped it avoid a British government rescue during the financial crisis, unlike its rivals Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland.
An end to the SFO’s case against Barclays and its operating subsidiary would remove the biggest remaining legal headache facing Barclays over its conduct during the financial crisis.
The collapse of one of its most high-profile corporate prosecutions would also represent a major setback for the SFO, with the prosecutor’s office under fire from politicians in recent years.
Qatar, which is a major investor in Britain, has not been accused of wrongdoing itself, but public companies in Britain are normally prohibited from lending money for the purchase of their own shares, known as “financial assistance.”
The SFO had been pursuing charges that Barclays unlawfully received such financial assistance, and that it had conspired with former senior executives to commit fraud over two so-called ‘advisory services agreements’ between Qatar and the bank which facilitated the fundraising.
NOT OVER YET
Even if the SFO were to fail in its efforts to reinstate the charges, Barclays still faces other legal and regulatory problems related to the 2008 fundraising.
The US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating the advisory services agreements.
Separately four former Barclays bankers face a charge of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation when they negotiated a capital injection for the bank from Qatar, in a trial due to start next January.
The four are former chief executive John Varley, and senior executives Roger Jenkins, Tom Kalaris and Richard Boath.
Barclays said the dismissal of the charges against itself should not be taken to have any bearing on whether other people may have committed a criminal offense.
Lawyers representing Boath and Jenkins declined to comment, while lawyers for the other two did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
British businesswoman Amanda Staveley has a separate $1 billion civil lawsuit against Barclays over the same fundraising.
Staveley’s private equity group PCP Capital Partners is claiming damages for alleged fraudulent misrepresentation in a row over whether Barclays offered Qatar and Abu Dhabi investors the same deal terms for participating in a fundraising in 2008.
Barclays has called the PCP lawsuit “misconceived.” Staveley declined to comment.
Barclays shares were up 0.7 percent by 1300 GMT, in line with the FTSE 350 British banks index.