VIENNA: Singapore and Austria on Wednesday (Oct 17) inked a partnership that will bolster the exchange of information and best practices in key areas of digitalisation and information and communications technology (ICT).
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which will cover digitalisation strategies for businesses among other things, was signed by Singapore’s Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran and Austria’s Federal Minister of Digital and Economic Affairs Margarete Schramboeck at the Federal Chancellery in Vienna.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in the Austrian capital for a one-day official visit, witnessed the signing, alongside Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
The new partnership will facilitate cooperation in areas like the digital economy and digitalisation strategies, which include solutions for small- and medium-sized enterprises, help for start-ups and the development of industry technology roadmaps.
It is also set to promote information-sharing in other aspects such as digital government, electronic commerce and digital trade, as well as the related regulatory approaches to emerging technologies like blockchain.
The MOU follows discussions between officials earlier this year, with both countries recognising the growing importance of digitalisation for businesses and government, which holds opportunities for greater bilateral cooperation.
“LIKE-MINDED PARTNERS” KEEN ON FURTHER COOPERATION
Speaking at a joint press conference held after the signing, Mr Lee said Singapore and Austria share similar perspectives on many issues, such as embracing free trade, multilateralism and the rule of law.
Austria is also a like-minded partner that shares Singapore’s aim of cultivating a culture of innovation and productivity, as well as using technology to upgrade economies and improve the lives of its people.
Mr Lee said the inking of the MOU marks the first step towards greater collaboration, while the signing of the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) later this week is also set to foster stronger economic ties between both countries.
“Singapore appreciates Austria’s consistent and strong support for the agreement. Once in force, it will further strengthen economic ties between Singapore and Austria and set that within a broader context."
When asked how both countries can further step up cooperation, Mr Lee replied that more can be done to reach out to Austria’s middle-sized companies that may not be so familiar with other parts of Asia.
There are now 220 Austrian companies operating in Singapore, including sensor chip maker AMS, with total investments amounting to more than S$2 billion.
“(There are) many more Austrian companies with technology and potential, particularly the middle-sized companies who are not so familiar with the Far East yet. If we can reach out to them, engage and encourage them to come and understand what the opportunities are, I think there’s a lot of potential,” said Mr Lee.
The prime minister added that there are also opportunities for collaboration between the research institutes and universities in both countries.
“I think these are all things we can pursue progressively because we are both not very big countries but countries which need to look outwards and need to work with like-minded partners in order to develop our full potential (and) to connect ourselves to the world.”
Echoing that, Mr Kurz said Austria is keen to forge deeper partnerships with Singapore in various areas, such as cultural and economic.
“Both countries are good gateways,” he said, while noting that many Austrian companies are interested to do business in Singapore.
“Singapore is a good gateway to the Asian market and Austria is a good gateway to the European market, especially to the south eastern Europe.”
On a wider context, Singapore – the chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year and coordinator of ASEAN-EU dialogue relations – will continue to work closely with Austria, which is the current president of the EU Council.
The EUSFTA, for one, can be a “pathfinder” to a broader trade deal between the EU and ASEAN, said Mr Lee.
Work is also underway to conclude a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement between the two blocs. When ready, it will be the first bloc-to-bloc aviation agreement that connects over one billion people living in the two regions.
As ASEAN works towards a digital integration framework to deepen regional connectivity, cooperation with the EU in this area will also be explored, added Mr Lee.
Earlier in the day, Mr Lee was received by Mr Kurz and a military honour guard when he arrived at the Federal Chancellery. In the evening, he will attend a roundtable dinner hosted by the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber.
Mr Lee will travel to Brussels on Thursday morning, where he will be attending the 12th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit.
On the sidelines of the summit, he will sign the EUSFTA with European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.