SINGAPORE: Singapore can help India in areas such as infrastructure planning, water conservation and business expansion, amid the South Asian country's ambitious plans for growth, said Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday (Sep 9).
Speaking at the first day of the India-Singapore: The Next Phase business and innovation summit, Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that India has set its sights on becoming a US$5 trillion economy by 2024 – about double its current GDP.
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The country also aims to invest about US$13.9 billion in urban infrastructure and solutions over the next five years, as it is set to rapidly urbanise.
This presents a huge opportunity for firms in the sector, said Dr Balakrishnan, adding that Singapore is already “welcoming and familiar” to Indian businesses and visitors.
“We believe we are a natural partner as India urbanises. Our expertise in urban development, planning, and infrastructure finance will be salient to India.”
Singapore’s water expertise may also be helpful, in light of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent emphasis on water conservation as a priority during his Independence Day address.
“No one understands the sanctity of water (and) how to make every drop count as much as Singapore ... In our own small way, but significant way, we believe our experiences will be relevant to India,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
SINGAPORE AS A GATEWAY TO THE REGION
He added that Singapore remains the ideal gateway for Indian firms as they expand into the region, noting that there are already more than 8,000 Indian companies in Singapore – the largest foreign contingent here.
Apart from helping these firms expand their supply chains and access growing ASEAN markets, the Foreign Affairs Minister said Singapore can also support innovation.
“We can collaborate with your government agencies and your companies to pilot digital platforms that will facilitate ease of doing business. We have the diverse population and we have the support structures to help you develop, trial, adapt digital solutions both in ASEAN and in India.”
At the same dialogue, India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar elaborated on India’s concerns over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). This comes as pressure builds to conclude the 16-country free trade agreement by this year.
Such concerns include India’s “enormous” trade deficit with China, as a result of “unfair” protectionist policies, according to Dr Jaishankar.
“RCEP at the end of the day, is an economic negotiation,” he said.
“You can't sell a trade agreement for its foreign policy benefits. It has to be sold for its trade benefits. I think if that was more self-evident to Indians, I think you'd get clearly a much stronger resonance out of India.”
In response, Dr Balakrishnan emphasised that if fair rules could be sorted out, there was enormous opportunity in what would be the “centre of gravity in the Indo-Pacific”.
“I say all this without any way trying to trivialise or gloss over the difficulty of negotiations. But I'm making the argument that it is worth making that effort … because this will be a game-changer.”
With the 10 ASEAN nations and India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand signing on, the RCEP “the mother of all trade agreements”, he said.
“Precisely at a time where the world is facing a pushback, against globalisation against free trade, we believe it is all the more important for those of us who believe this is a recipe for peace and prosperity to make the effort,” he added.