The comprehensive Turkey-Singapore Free Trade Agreement is a milestone according to Singaporean Foreign Minister Balakrishnan, who sees opportunities in a wide range of areas, including aviation, finance, healthcare and higher education
Singaporean Foreign Minister Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan said Turkey can be a spring board for Singaporean companies that are planning to invest in Europe, Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa and he added that Singaporean companies are interested in participating in Turkey's "Vision 2023" projects. Answering to Daily Sabah's questions during his visit to Ankara on Oct. 5, Dr. Balakrishnan said the strategic partnership agreement between the two countries will guide their efforts to grow ties with Turkey across a wide range of areas, including aviation, finance, culture and higher education.
Describing the comprehensive Turkey-Singapore Free Trade Agreement as a milestone in bilateral relations, Dr. Balakrishnan said as air hubs for their respective regions Turkey and Singapore can cooperate further in the aviation sector.
As a Medical Doctor and politician Dr. Balakrishnan also said Singapore's companies in Turkey are interested in the progress and further development of Turkey's healthcare sector, particularly in the area of public-private partnership healthcare.
Daily Sabah: Even though diplomatic relations between our countries have historic roots which date back to the 19th century, there is a growing momentum in bilateral relations in recent years. How can you explain Singapore's growing interest to Turkey?
Vivian Balakrishnan: Singapore and Turkey are old friends. Our relations have been growing steadily since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1969. There is strong interest and commitment on both sides to boost ties because we want our economies to be competitive and dynamic. Turkey is the world's 17th largest economy and it has made important contributions to the global economy. Singapore is at the heart of dynamic Asia. Singapore and Turkey can complement each other's strengths as hubs and gateways to our respective regions.
Momentum in bilateral relations has picked up, with many recent high-level visits. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Singapore in January 2014 when he was Prime Minister. Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also made a bilateral visit to Istanbul and Ankara in October 2014, and visited Antalya for the G20 Leaders Summit in November 2015.
Turkey is a valuable partner for Singapore. In 2014, we concluded a Joint Declaration on a Strategic Partnership (SP), a strong signal that we want to push relations forward. The SP will guide our efforts to grow ties across a wide range of areas, including aviation, finance, culture and higher education. In 2015, we achieved another milestone when we signed the Turkey-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (TRSFTA). Singapore looks forward to the speedy ratification of the TRSFTA so that both countries can realize the full potential of our economic relations by tapping on each other's expertise and networks.
Turkey has a "Vision 2023" project, which has outlined a set of goals to be reached by the centennial of the founding of the Turkish Republic. These goals include projects for economic, social and infrastructure improvements. Singapore companies are interested to participate in these projects, in sectors such as aviation, ports, infrastructure, healthcare and urban solutions.
D.S.: As you know, Turkey and Singapore signed a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (Turkey-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, TRSFTA) in 2015, which is the most comprehensive FTA that Turkey has ever signed. Could you give us more information about the details of the TRSFTA and Singapore's expectations from the Agreement?
V.B.: The TRSFTA is a high quality FTA and a milestone in our bilateral partnership, resulting from the steady build-up of economic engagement between both sides over the years. The TRSFTA adopts a liberalizing framework that encourages trade in goods and services, and investment flows between both countries. It provides a platform for cooperation across a wide range of areas, including Trade in Goods, Intellectual Property Rights, Telecommunications, E-commerce and Government Procurement.
The TRSFTA is broad-based and comprehensive, and will give impetus to closer economic cooperation between our two countries. Against the backdrop of weak global economic conditions, the TRSFTA will enable our two countries to leverage each other's strengths and contribute to the growth of our respective economies through increased trade and investment. In particular, we can look forward to stronger relations in the areas of transport infrastructure, urban planning solutions and environmental solutions.
D.S.: Turkey and Singapore also have a Strategic Partnership which was inked in 2014. From this point, what are main areas that we have been improving in our bilateral relations since the agreement came into effect?
Since the SP was concluded in October 2014, we have both broadened and deepened our relations in many areas including economic cooperation, technical cooperation, as well as cultural and people-to-people links. In 2015, Singapore's trade with Turkey was valued at close to $1.5 billion, which was a 20.9 per cent increase from our trade in 2014. There are now 77 Turkish companies in Singapore, some of which also base their ASEAN headquarters here. Singapore companies are also interested to expand their investments in Turkey.
Singapore and Turkey also cooperate to provide technical assistance to other countries. For example, the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Turkish Coordination and Cooperation Agency (TIKA) jointly conduct training programs on sustainable water resources management and food security for officials from Africa, ASEAN and the Pacific Islands.
People-to-people ties are also developing well. 78 Turkish PhD students have studied in Singapore's research institutes to date. On the cultural front, we were treated to a magnificent performance by a Turkish dance troupe at Singapore's Chingay festival last year.
Looking ahead, there is more we can do together as our engagement deepens. As part of my visit to Turkey, I will officially open the Singapore Garden at the Antalya Expo. I believe that our exhibition, titled "City in a Garden", will give visitors at the Expo a glimpse of Singapore, which I hope will also entice them to visit our "Garden City".
D.S.: Both Turkey and Singapore are located in strategically important parts of the world for trading activities. How do you think the location of our countries could serve to strengthen our bilateral relations?
Turkey occupies a strategic location. It can be a spring board for Singapore companies planning to invest in Europe, Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa. These markets represent a combined GDP of $25 trillion, and a customer base of 1.5 billion people. I hope that Turkish firms can also capitalize on the business opportunities in Singapore and Singapore's strategic location as a gateway for Turkey to enter the growing Asian market. Singapore is a hub for global players seeking to tap the opportunities offered by a rising Asia. This includes the ASEAN market, which has a combined population of 629 million people and a GDP of $2.4 trillion in 2015.
Singapore and Turkey share many similarities. We both have an extensive network of free trade and investment protection agreements, which will only grow stronger with the TRSFTA. Singapore has the largest FTA network in Asia, offering access to over 60 percent of global GDP. As global air hubs, Singapore and Turkey are also well placed as nodes for our regions.
D.S.: Singapore is also one of the leading countries in the aerospace engineering industry. Do you think that there is possibility of cooperation with Turkey in this sector?
Despite global uncertainties, appetite for air travel in Asia Pacific countries continues to grow, creating many opportunities in the region for aerospace manufacturers, Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) companies, and general aviation and aerospace players. The global fleet size is anticipated to double over the next two decades. Aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing have projected that over a third of worldwide aircraft deliveries will go to Asia in the next two decades. By 2031, Asia Pacific's fleet is expected to triple to about 13,500 aircrafts.
Backed by over a 100 aerospace companies, Singapore has garnered a quarter of the Asian MRO market. To support MRO activities and to work with the dominant aerospace manufacturers, Singapore companies have developed engineering capabilities such as the manufacturing of landing gears, stamped metal parts, cockpit systems, treated parts etc. Looking ahead, we welcome opportunities to explore collaboration with Turkey in the MRO market.
D.S.: As a premier global hub port and an international maritime center, what can Turkey learn from Singapore's experience?
Singapore is continuously learning, and we are happy to share our experience with partners like Turkey. Our strategic location in the heart of Southeast Asia and at the nexus of major shipping lanes has made us a key logistics hub and conduit for world trade. Singapore is the world's busiest transshipment hub, handling about one-seventh of the world's container transshipments throughput in 2013. We are connected by 200 shipping lines to 600 ports in 123 countries, with daily sailings to every major port of call in the world.
We do not take our position as a global port for granted. We are therefore investing in our future port infrastructure. This is to be developed in four phases over the next 30 years. The new Tuas mega port will have a handling capacity of 65 million TEUs, doubling our current capacity. As part of ongoing initiatives to develop port technology solutions for the future automated Tuas Port, PSA Singapore has also invested in a fleet of 30 Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) for its container terminals. With the right infrastructure coupled with a business-friendly and future-ready environment, we hope to remain the choice hub for top logistics companies and manufacturers.
D.S.: Turkey aspires to become a medical hub for its own region in line with the 2023 Vision. Likewise, Singapore is already a medical hub in Asia. As a Medical Doctor and politician, do you see opportunities for collaboration between Turkey and Singapore in the healthcare industry?
Singapore's companies in Turkey are interested in the progress and further development of Turkey's healthcare sector, particularly in the area of public-private partnership healthcare. We also look forward to the realization of Turkey's Healthcare Transformation Program, which will improve the quality and availability of healthcare services. This would position Turkey as a medical hub for patients from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and CIS regions. This is certainly an area of collaboration that we could further explore.
Singapore is now actively embracing the digitization of healthcare in response to the long-term challenges of a rapidly ageing population and a healthcare manpower crunch. We are exploring the use of smart technology to transform our healthcare sector, including in areas such as the adoption of tele-health services. We have the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) program, which stores a unified medical record for every patient within and is used in more than 280 institutions by over 14,000 physicians. Our companies look forward to exploring with Turkish companies opportunities for collaboration in the area of future healthcare.
D.S.: Is there anything you would like to add?
V.B.: Singapore and Turkey share an old partnership. In fact, our common history predates the establishment of diplomatic ties. Singapore was the location for Turkey's first Consulate in Southeast Asia, which was established in 1865. Your first Consul General in Singapore, Ahmed Ataullah Efendi, came here in 1901, at the turn of the 20th century. He was a popular figure held in high regard by all who knew him, and was buried in Singapore following his passing in 1903.
We want to renew, refresh and reinvigorate our ties with Turkey. I am optimistic that our bilateral relations will continue to expand, and am very pleased to be able to visit Turkey to move our relations to a higher level. Despite a challenging year for Turkey, Singapore reaffirms our strong commitment to inject new momentum to our relationship. We stand in solidarity with you.
Looking ahead, we will continue to ride on the momentum that we have achieved in the last few years, and build on the progress we have made to develop an even stronger partnership. We are on the right track!