ST Published November 21, 2011
By MALMINDERJIT SINGH
(SINGAPORE) Singapore may be a relatively small country in terms of population and land area, but its list of admirers is growing steadily and now includes Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
High praise: Mr Singh (with Mr Lee at yesterday’s Istana lunch) said ‘Singapore today is an embodiment of human progress and the spirit of internationalism’
Mr Singh, on his visit to Singapore yesterday, paid a glowing tribute to the Republic. ‘Singapore’s rapid transformation and economic growth model is a beacon of hope in the uncertain world we live in today,’ he said. ‘Your investments in human resources, education and infrastructure are examples worthy of emulation,’ he added.
Speaking during a lunch hosted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana yesterday, Mr Singh also highlighted that the Indian ‘government places the highest priority on our relations with Singapore’. ‘It was the opening of our relations with Singapore which led to a strategic shift in India’s foreign and economic policies and which today have evolved into our ‘Look East’ policy. Singapore opened new horizons for India.’
This relationship, according to Mr Singh, has risen to a higher level since both countries inked the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). ‘In 2005 . . . we signed a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement between India and Singapore . . . That agreement has led to a qualitative upgrading of our trade and investment relations with Singapore.’
Mr Singh explained that the bilateral relationship between Singapore and India has been strengthened by ‘people-to-people exchanges, tourism and the revolution in connectivity’, which includes connection by air between Singapore and 11 Indian cities, bringing ‘us closer to each other than we have ever been’.
The qualitative and quantitative upgrading of the India-Singapore relationship due to the CECA was also pointed out by PM Lee. ‘Trade and investment flows between Singapore and India have expanded considerably. Our landmark Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) boosted economic ties.’
Mr Lee pointed out that ‘Singapore is now India’s sixth largest trading partner, and second largest source of FDI into India’, while also noting the mutual benefit of the relationship to Singapore. ‘Conversely, Singapore is the top overseas investment destination for Indian companies, and Indian companies now form the largest foreign corporate contingent in Singapore.’
Both leaders offered optimistic assessments of the expansion of future relations based on recent trends.
Opportunities to increase mutual trade and investments will only increase, according to Mr Lee, as India continues to develop under the reforms Mr Singh initiated as then Indian finance minister in 1991. ‘I look forward to concluding the second review of the CECA early to further enhance our trade and investment links,’ he added.
Offering an insight into their discussions earlier, he said that new initiatives for collaboration between Singapore and India include vocational skills cooperation and interactions between both countries’ parliamentarians, while highlighting the signing of an MOU on Cooperation in Personnel Management and Public Administration.
‘Singapore has emerged as a valued partner for our ambitious plans for infrastructure development. It is India’s largest trade and investment partner in Asean. We welcome greater investment and technology flows from Singapore,’ Mr Singh added.
Stopping over on his way back from the East Asia Summit in Bali, Mr Singh was in Singapore for his first bilateral trip as prime minister of India and concluded his visit by unveiling the commemorative marker of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, at the Asian Civilisations Museum Green, which he saw as a fitting tribute to both Singapore and the former Indian leader.
‘Singapore today is an embodiment of human progress and the spirit of internationalism . . . It is today one of the most advanced economies of the world and an engine of growth for Asia. It has led by example, and by the exceptional qualities and skills of its people and society. These are successes which Jawaharlal Nehru would have been very happy to see. There is a lot that India can learn from Singapore.’