This year marks the 50th anniversary since the beginning of Turkey and Singapore's warm and extensive diplomatic relations. Although official ties go back to 1865 when the Ottoman Empire appointed its first Honorary Consul in Singapore, then a British Colony, we have both since become republics, with people-to-people and trade ties having grown steadily ever since. Today, as in the past, Turkey and Singapore continue to constitute important hubs in our respective regions, with much potential for closer collaboration.
The Strategic Partnership (SP) and Turkey-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (TRSFTA) form the basis of bilateral relations and reflect the importance Singapore places on Turkey. The SP provides a framework for bilateral collaboration, such as in political exchanges, cultural and financial cooperation, aviation and economic ties. This year, we have made further progress by signing cultural agreements to greater come to understand our history with the Ottoman Empire. As for the TRSFTA, this makes for a strong statement of economic intent. It is currently Turkey’s most comprehensive Free Trade Agreement and includes areas as wide-ranging as government procurement, goods and services, investments, intellectual property rights and e-Commerce. The TRSFTA will further boost bilateral trade, which currently stands at around $1.1 billion in Turkey’s favor.
During the 50th anniversary
Our current priorities are political, economic and cultural ties. In celebration of our 50th anniversary, key Singapore leaders visited Turkey, including the speaker of Parliament, a senior minister (socio-economic issues) and the minister in-charge of trade relations. They reaffirmed the political importance of Singapore’s relations with Turkey.
Economically, while Singapore is small and relatively far away, we have several substantive investments here. For example, PSA International manages Mersin International Port (MIP), one of Turkey’s largest ports, and since 2007, reportedly invested over $1 billion. Olam International, a global agri-business company which presides over Progıda, is Turkey’s second largest producer of hazelnuts, with factories in Samsun, Giresun and Ordu. The company buys from thousands of farm across the Black Sea region. DP Architects designed the redevelopment plan for the historic Halıç Shipyard in the Golden Horn, while Ascott Holdings, a global hospitality brand, won the award for “Best Serviced Residences 2019” in Turkey for its property in Istanbul. Singapore’s Sovereign Wealth Funds also invest in Turkish companies and financial instruments. Overall, our strong economic footprint demonstrates confidence in Turkey’s growth and development.
Culturally, the links with the Ottoman Empire are intriguing. Our archives contain various old Ottoman records, which we seek to examine to explore our past interactions. Tourism, while modest, is on the rise, with an increased number of Singaporeans opting for Turkey as a holiday destination and flights between Istanbul and Singapore doing well. This small but steady growth in people-to-people connections can only foster better understanding between our countries.
As for Turkey, it is encouraging to see increased engagement with Asia. In August 2019, Turkey unveiled the “Asia Anew” initiative to guide its political, business and cultural engagements. Asia is a fast growing region and market of over three billion people with significant business opportunities for Turkey. Turkey also became a Sectoral Dialogue Partner with ASEAN – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – in 2017, signalling its commitment to engage the region.
Taking us beyond
I would like to suggest five areas of “connectivity” to build on in the coming years. First, enhancing business connectivity. The government has provided a conducive environment to help our businesses connect and trade. In particular, the benefits of the TRSFTA needs active promotion with as many business chambers as possible.
Second is digital connectivity. In Singapore, we have complimentary strengths in terms of innovation, especially in start-ups and FinTech. Turkish start-ups have the potential to tap into Singapore’s innovation and tech ecosystem to grow their businesses in Asia. The “Smart Cities” development, in which Singapore has extensive experience, can provide countless future benefits for Turkish cities.
Aviation connectivity is another area for potential cooperation. Like Istanbul, Singapore is a major logistics, transportation and aviation hub. Singapore’s Changi Airport handles over 65 million passengers and serves 100 airlines flying to 400 cities. There are synergies to collaborate in the passenger and cargo sectors. Major logistics companies such as SATS Ltd and Turkish Airlines could spearhead this.
Fourth can be determined as maritime connectivity. Singapore is the world’s busiest transhipment port with links to over 600 ports across 120 countries. With port expansion, MIP could grow even stronger in partnership with PSA to serve the economically vibrant southeast region in Turkey and beyond.
Cultural connectivity is the fifth area of connectivity. Research is needed to explore our past links with the Ottoman Empire. Such knowledge will add to the foundations of our longstanding friendship.
The past 50 years have seen a steady growth in bilateral relations, whereas the next 50 look set to offer us exciting new opportunities. These five areas of “connectivity” will serve to develop this friendship beyond. It is, however, not only a government effort, but also one that needs our businesses and peoples to jointly step-up engagements with one another.
*Singapore’s ambassador to Turkey