MEXICO CITY: Singapore's President Tony Tan has wrapped up his five-day State Visit to Mexico City.
In an interview with the media, Dr Tan said the strong relationship forged between Singapore and Mexico can be a foundation to strengthen partnership at three levels.
First, Singapore is regarded the regional hub of Asia, like how Mexico is for Latin America. Both countries can then take this opportunity of strengthened bilateral ties to use each other as gateways to huge markets in the two regions.
As key players in their respective regions, Singapore and Mexico can also leverage their roles in ASEAN and the Pacific Alliance - a trade bloc comprising of four countries, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru - to strengthen ties between their two regional communities.
And lastly, on a country-to-country level, Dr Tan emphasised that with greater collaboration, the two countries can now tap on each other’s strengths in sectors like oil and gas, manufacturing and urban infrastructure, especially after the signing of the various Memorandums of Understandings (MoUs) over the past five days.
"The MoUs which we have signed now will set the stage for these developments, but that doesn’t mean they’ll come automatically. We have to build on it," said Dr Tan.
He pointed out that Mexico is starting to open up and diversify its economy, adding that it is looking to build a strong presence is Asia. “Singapore can help them to expand in this area as well. I think in that way, both sides will benefit, provided that the reforms are sustained."
Dr Tan was referring to the sweeping reforms made under Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in sectors like energy, telecommunications, finance and education, since he took office in late 2012.
“The economy will be transformed. More importantly, it would be more open, more accessible, there will be more opportunities for Singapore companies, and I think this is the right time to look seriously at Mexico. You can’t do everything within three days, but we’ve made a start," Dr Tan added.
These developments also make Dr Tan’s State Visit to Mexico City "timely".
Dr Tan also noted that Mexico has a "high regard" for Singapore brands and companies, but the question is how to translate that into “tangible, concrete results”. As to what Singapore can stand to gain from its relationship with Mexico, Dr Tan said it is a “two-way street”.
“We want to encourage more Mexican companies to come to Singapore. They can also use Singapore as a gateway into Asia for their operations, and in that case, we will benefit. Singapore is too small to be a one-way donor to Mexico. But we can see economic benefits for us as well, if our companies succeed here, then of course, it benefits Singapore,” he added.
Singapore companies also seem to be eager in setting up shop in Mexico, especially as they step out of their comfort zones and explore non-traditional markets like China, India, Europe and North America.
“We’re an open trading nation. We always have to look forward for new areas,” said Dr Tan, cautioning that “if you don’t look for new markets, your growth will stagnate.”
Earlier in the week, Mexico’s Economic Development Minister highlighted that while bilateral trade has grown significantly in the past decade, imports to and from both countries remain very low, ranging from 0.5 to 1 per cent.
'CHICKEN AND EGG'
On whether this State Visit and deepening of bilateral ties will increase that number, Dr Tan said it is a “chicken-and-egg process”.
“If we do nothing, nothing will happen so I hope my visit will be a start,” Dr Tan. “I think it’s already done, in a sense that my visit here, together with the ministers, has actually made Singapore more visible to the authorities here.
"They know about Singapore as a success story, but they have to hear it from the ground, and a State Visit is always useful from that point of view to register our presence to a wider section of the Mexican public and the authorities."
Another aspect of this State Visit was to promote cultural exchanges between the two countries. Dr Tan said both countries are strengthening ties between their universities, institutes of higher learning and research institutes. Nanyang Technological University also just signed a MoU with the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education.
But more can be done on this front, despite the language barrier, which can be overcome as more Singaporeans pick up Spanish, he said. "I hope more Singapore students will come to Mexico as a new market and a new environment, and this would be one way of building more bridges between Mexico and Singapore", he added.