The European Union and Singapore submitted one of the world's most comprehensive free-trade agreements for approval yesterday, with the EU seeing it as a stepping stone towards a wider deal with Southeast Asia. The EU envisages it opening the door to a deal with other members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which has set a goal of economic integration by 2015. "In the long term we want to have an agreement with all the 600 million Asean consumers and with all the countries of Asean and beyond, this is the first milestone," Rupert Schlegelmilch, chief EU negotiator for the pact, said in Singapore where both sides signed the roughly 1,000-page document. Singapore has a population of just five million people but the city state accounts for about a third of all EU-Asean trade, more than 60 per cent of all investment between the two regions and is host to more than 9,000 European companies. Trade in goods topped €52 billion last year, and services trade topped €28 billion (HK$293.7 billion) in 2011. Mutual investment has reached €190 billion. Singapore is one of the world's biggest oil refining centres and the agreement is likely to boost the export of petroleum products from Singapore to the EU because it will reduce tariffs. The agreement will also make it easier for European banks and insurers operating in Singapore to expand their business, potentially benefiting the retail businesses of Standard Chartered and HSBC as well as banks with wholesale operations such as Deutsche Bank and Barclays. It will ensure the right to sell directly or establish branches in each other's markets and promises to provide greater transparency over the award of licences. "We made a very determined effort to go as far as we can in liberalising further what our banks and insurances companies can do, we were quite successful in that respect," Schlegelmilch said. The deal goes beyond many other free-trade accords in committing to open up public procurement and agreeing on technical standards in areas such as motor vehicles, electronics and green technologies. A car made according to EU standards, for example, will be accepted for sale in Singapore. Subject to approval in Singapore and by the 28 EU member states and the European Parliament, the agreement should come into force late next year or early 2015.