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Singapore firms should seize first-mover advantage in Cambodia, Laos: President Tan

Speaking to the media on Saturday (Jan 14) towards the end of his state visit to Cambodia and Laos, President Tan urged SMEs to enter emerging markets early in order to carve out niche areas for themselves. 

LUANG PRABANG, Laos: Singaporean firms should move quickly and seize first-mover advantage in developing markets like Cambodia and Laos, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Saturday (Jan 14).

Speaking to the media as he wrapped up his state visit to both countries, Dr Tan urged small- and medium-sized enterprises to enter emerging markets early in order to carve out niche areas for themselves.

He cited tourism as one area where there could be more collaboration between Singapore companies and their regional counterparts.

With cultural sites like the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap and the town of Luang Prabang dotting Cambodia and Laos, coupled with its positive spillover to other adjacent sectors like food & beverage and hospitality, tourism could be a low-hanging fruit to unlocking further growth and development.

The Grand Luang Prabang hotel, which is situated on the banks of the Mekong River, is managed by Singapore hotel operator Banyan Tree and is just one example of Singaporean companies making headway into developing countries.

BOTH NATIONS EAGER TO BUILD BUSINESS LINKS WITH SINGAPORE

Dr Tan said in his meetings with the Cambodian and Lao heads of state, both nations were eager to build up business links with Singapore.

Singapore has recently signed pro-business policies with both countries like the Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, which came into effect for Laos this year and is awaiting ratification with the Cambodian government.

“The two governments, Cambodia and Laos, are very positive about Singapore,” said Dr Tan. “Their leaders have encouraged us to do more here, to increase trade and invest more here. And they’ve said they’d be willing to help in any way possible.”

Besides tourism, the President added that there are plenty of opportunities for Singapore companies to make their mark in Cambodia and Laos.

For one, both countries are developing rapidly, with average economic growth at around 7 per cent over the past few years.

Bilateral trade has also been growing. In 2015, Singapore was Cambodia’s third largest investor and Laos’ 18th largest from 2011 to 2015.

Hence, Dr Tan urged Singapore companies to act quickly and seize the first-mover advantage. “The point for us is that we either go in now, when competition is less, or we wait until a later stage, like in Vietnam when there's going to be a lot of competition because everybody will be going in,” he said.

With the wrap of this latest state visit, Dr Tan has now covered all of the ASEAN member nations. And as ASEAN continues on its development path, Dr Tan took the time to underscore the importance of ASEAN integration, especially given the uncertain global economic and political climate.

“They (Cambodia and Laos) are on a different level of development. So at this stage they will not benefit as much as some of the other ASEAN countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. But eventually the integration of ASEAN will benefit all the 10 ASEAN countries. And politically it is important for the world to see and maintain ASEAN’s centrality and position especially with regard to regional situations and issues that affect the whole of Asia and Southeast Asia.”