Singapore can provide a good base for Indian companies as a civil aviation, trading and financial hub, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean today said. Speaking at the closing ceremony of the two-day ASEAN India Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) 2018 held here, Teo made a vigorous pitch on the opportunities available for Indian businesses in Singapore. “As a civil aviation, trading and financial hub, we are a good base for Indian companies to work from in order to expand to South-east Asia and beyond,” he said at the PBD gala dinner. The annual conference, that celebrates the achievements and contributions of the Indian diaspora, is being held with an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) theme this year, to mark 25 years of dialogue partnership between India and the regional bloc. Singapore, the ASEAN chair, is hosting the meeting for the first time in South East Asia. ASEAN is India’s 4th largest trading partner, accounting for 10.2 per cent of India’s total trade. India is ASEAN’s 7th largest trading partner. Trade is back on track and registered an 8 per cent increase in 2016-17, as compared to the previous year. Many multinational companies have their headquarters in Singapore, noted Teo. Today, Indian companies form the largest contingent of foreign companies here: there are more than 8,000 of them, double the number in 2009. Singapore, he said, plays a key role in connecting many companies from all corners of the world who use the country as an operational base, among them more than 7,500 Chinese ones registered here. These Singapore-based companies form a vibrant community, and can work together to tap on the country’s business infrastructure and its network of 20 implemented free trade agreements with 31 trading partners to help them expand abroad, said Teo. Noting the strong turnout from Indian and Singapore businesses – many of which operate across the region – at the conference, Teo also made a pitch for businesses to urge governments to facilitate the ease of doing business and to enact policies to attract greater investments and cross-border partnerships. “Businesses can play an important role by encouraging governments, both at national and state levels, to be more competitive, responsive and plugged into global value chains,” The Straits Times quoted the deputy premier as saying. He added that, as ASEAN chair, Singapore is committed to deepening the group’s relations with its key partners, including India.
Two events on the horizon will help further enhance ties: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s trip to India later in the month for the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit – his first ASEAN-related summit as 2018 chair – and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Singapore later in the year to deliver the keynote address at the Shangri-la Dialogue. Teo also detailed three key areas in which ASEAN and India can work together more closely: economic integration, connectivity and digital technologies. Southeast Asia and India represent a quarter of the world’s population – 1.8 billion people – and a combined GDP of more than USD 4.5 trillion. By 2025, India’s consumer market is expected to become the fifth largest in the world, while South-east Asia will see a doubling of middle-class households to 163 million. “Against this backdrop, we are starting from a modest
base,” said Teo, noting that ASEAN-India trade accounted for only 2.6 per cent of the bloc’s external trade in 2016. “There is much scope to strengthen our linkages and trade ties,” the daily quoted Teo as saying. He called for ASEAN and India to press on with economic integration, pledging that Singapore, as ASEAN chair, will do what it can to secure the support of India and all other Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership countries to advance negotiations on the pact. Connectivity can be boosted too, said Teo, noting that with India’s strategic location, maritime and air connectivity can be expanded to bring the country closer to the rest of ASEAN.
He noted that India has many airports ready and available to connect many more points in ASEAN. “The key to unlocking this potential is to further liberalise air services as Singapore has done,” said Teo, adding that India could start, as a pilot project, to allow one or two of its key cities to have open skies with those in ASEAN. Thirdly, ASEAN and India – both fast-changing markets with an appetite for innovative solutions – can cooperate in digital technologies. There are opportunities for platforms such as India’s e-payment and digital identification systems to be harmonised with those in the region. On the security front, Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, was heartened to see that defence cooperation between India and ASEAN has intensified. India, which is located strategically along important sea-routes from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, is integral to the security in the region, he noted. “ASEAN and India share a common interest to keep these vital conduits of trade and economic exchange open,” said Teo. “And it is crucial that we continue to uphold our shared principles of the freedom of navigation and respect for the rule of law.” Earlier today, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is on two-day visit to Singapore, said that India’s dialogue partnership with ASEAN has evolved into a strategic partnership and the Indian diaspora provides a platform for stronger ties with the grouping.