SINGAPORE: Laos' leaders have ambitious plans to transform the landlocked country into one that's connected to the rest of the world, and Singapore hopes to be part of that development, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (May 2).
Singapore has expertise in areas like logistics, aviation, urban planning, healthcare and education, and these "complement Laos' development priorities," said Mr Lee, who was hosting a dinner for visiting Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith.
Singapore can also be Laos' gateway to the world, Mr Lee added, given its position as a maritime, aviation and financial hub of the region.
“The Kunming-Vientiane railway, expected to be completed by 2021, will eventually link Vientiane to Singapore, through Thailand and Malaysia. The improved connectivity will not only spur tourism, but will create greater investment and business opportunities for Laos," said Mr Lee.
He noted that Singapore's companies are starting to recognise the economic potential in Laos. Not only is it one of the fastest growing countries in the region, with an average growth of 8 per cent over the last decade, it is also resource-rich and has a young workforce.
Mr Lee highlighted the good relations between Singapore and Laos, and said bilateral ties are supported by people-to-people relations. For instance, many Singaporean youths travel to Laos to participate in community projects in its villages.
In his speech, Prime Minister Thongloun further affirmed diplomatic relations, saying both he and Mr Lee had shared views on how to advance bilateral ties in various fields, particularly in trade and investment.
Dr Thongloun added that Laos doesn't just consider Singapore an ASEAN family member, but as a "model of contemporary development that all developing countries try to emulate".
EXPLORING MORE BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES
Singapore and Lao companies will also jointly explore further business opportunities with an agreement that was inked earlier on Tuesday.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was signed between the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry will provide a framework for firms from both sides to collaborate and promote information exchange.
With it, Singapore companies will get to learn more about the Lao business environment from the developing country’s industry leaders.
It also encourages partnerships between firms from both countries in jointly seeking investment opportunities.
"Definitely the Lao market is bigger than Singapore. You know, as a population of about seven million people, Singapore only about five million people, and the land is big enough,” said the Chinese Chamber’s president Roland Ng.
Many Singapore companies already have a presence in Laos, coming from various sectors like real estate, energy, consultancy and legal services. Potential areas for further partnership include agriculture and infrastructure development.
COURTING SINGAPORE COMPANIES
On his part, Dr Thongloun wasted no time in launching a charm offensive on Singapore companies at a business forum, addressing industry leaders in his non-native language: "My speech in English - so save time for you. But my English is not very ... not so good, because I have only three months in Nanyang Polytechnic course long time ago - but I try."
During the late 90's, Dr Thongloun attended Nanyang Polytechnic’s Executive English Language and Communication Skills course under the Singapore-Laos Bilateral Programme. He also made time to visit the polytechnic on Tuesday.
During the business forum, Dr Thongloun encouraged Singapore companies to look to Laos for opportunities. He said his country's aspiration was to transform into an upper-middle income nation within two decades, and that was why the landlocked state is investing in infrastructure to open economic corridors to China in the north, and Vietnam to the east.
He added that Singapore firms can gain from such developments by doing business with his country: "Singapore is sea-locked. Lao is landlocked. We can work together. From sea-locked to land-locked, and from land-locked to sea-locked - we open - we will open."
Dr Thongloun also met President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who affirmed Singapore’s continued support for Laos’ development and capacity building.
As with previous visiting leaders, the Lao Prime Minister received a customary Singapore honour - to have an orchid named after him.