SPEECH BY DR KOH POH KOON, MINISTER OF STATE FOR TRADE & INDUSTRY AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT, AT THE FUTURECHINA ADVANCED LEADERS PROGRAMME ALMATY-SINGAPORE BUSINESS FORUM ON THURSDAY 20 APRIL 2017, 1000 HRS, THE RITZ-CARLTON, ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN
His Excellency Bauyrzhan Baibek, Mayor of Almaty City,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. A very good morning. It gives me great pleasure to join you today at this FutureChina Advanced Leaders Programme Almaty-Singapore Business Forum. It was dark when we arrived in Almaty last night, and this morning, we were pleasantly surprised to see the beautiful view of Almaty.
Introduction to Business China and the Advanced Leaders Programme
2. Let me give you a brief overview of what Business China is about. Business China was established in 2007 with the vision of being the leading bilingual and bicultural channel for closer collaboration between Singapore and China. Through its initiatives, Business China has played a critical and important role in deepening Singapore businesses’ understanding of China, strengthening our cultural and economic ties with China, and empowering Singaporeans to enter into business ventures in China.
3. The FutureChina Advanced Leaders Programme was launched in 2012 to enhance Singaporean business executives’ understanding of the practical aspects of doing business in China. A total of 113 participants have graduated from this programme over the past five years, and the programme has brought participants to many cities in China, such as Beijing, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Wuhan, Changsha, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xi’an, Yan’an and Shandong.
Kazakhstan is an important partner for Singapore in the region
4. You may be wondering what a FutureChina business delegation is doing in Almaty. The reason is this: This year’s Advanced Leaders Programme is focused on opportunities brought about by China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and we are here this week to gain an understanding of the role Kazakhstan and Almaty plays in China’s Silk Road Economic Belt development. Just before this, we visited Xinjiang to understand the role Xinjiang plays as the final stop for businesses stepping out of China. Kazakhstan is an important part of the historical silk road, and Almaty is the first stop on the silk road outside of China along the westward journey to Europe. Kazakhstan has been referred to as the “buckle” in the Silk Road Economic Belt, and this signifies the importance Kazakhstan plays in this development. Kazakhstan plays a key role in enhancing connectivity in this region, through your road networks, railway systems and air links, as well as in facilitating financial flows. In my conversation earlier with Mayor Baibek, I understand that two thirds of Almaty’s GDP is in providing services, and I believe that with more trade flows, this role that Almaty plays in providing services for trade will continue to grow. It is admirable that Kazakhstan has set in place ambitious plans for domestic reforms and economic development. This will lead Kazakhstan into the future, and is also integral to the success of regional integration efforts such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union.
5. Therefore, Kazakhstan is an important partner for Singapore, not just in this region, but also as a potential gateway to China. As the Mayor has said, Kazakhstan is between the Russian bear and the Chinese dragon – the Caspian Sea, and the Eurasian Economic Union, a large region comprising five countries of 180 million people. Kazakhstan is the second largest country in the Union. Kazakhstan is hence a significant place that businesses should not ignore.
Just as Kazakhstan serves as a gateway to Central Asia, Singapore can be a good partner for Kazakhstan in Southeast Asia.
6. Singapore strives to play a similar role in Southeast Asia. We will celebrate the 200th year anniversary of the founding of Singapore as a free port next year. Today, we serve as a centre for import, export and distribution and continue to leverage our location at the intersections of major trade routes and along the Maritime Silk Road. We seek to be a gateway for foreign companies to enter the larger Southeast Asian market of 630 million people, with a projected GDP growth of 5% over the next 5 to 10 years.
7. Just as the Belt and Road initiative will lead to increased connectivity in Central Asia, Singapore strives to play a role in maintaining connectivity for businesses to enter our region as well. We now have 4,550 flights to more than 200 cities in 60 countries. Every day, we have 200 shipping lines running to more than 600 ports in 123 countries. Our strong, regional and international connections offer a good base for companies to use Singapore as a springboard into the larger ASEAN market. Companies from all over the world have chosen to anchor themselves in Singapore. Businesses from this part of the world in Central Asia have also found their way into Singapore, and I encourage businesses from Kazakhstan to look at Singapore as your entry point into Southeast Asia.
8. Companies can also tap Singapore’s strong regional links. To date, we have 21 Free Trade Agreements with many countries around the world. Companies are able to leverage our trade connectivity to gain preferential access and lower their business cost. Our strong Free Trade Agreement connections with our region and beyond also means that companies will find Singapore a good place to base their business to get connections into the region, in Southeast Asia and the larger Asia Pacific.
9. Today, we are in the midst of discussions to conclude a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the Government of Kazakhstan. Last year, we also initiated discussions to commence a Joint Feasibility Study on the benefits of an FTA between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union. EEC Minister Valovaya and I are also co-chairing a committee to study how we can grow cooperation between the EAEU and Singapore. I am also working with EEC Minister Nikishina to discuss the steps towards concluding a Free Trade Agreement between Singapore and the EAEU hopefully in the near future. We hope that the FTA would help to establish a conducive environment for our companies to do business, by reducing existing barriers to trade and providing greater certainty for our investors to thrive.
Singapore companies could benefit from an in-depth understanding of Kazakhstan and China.
10. The fact that the Advanced Leaders Programme has brought us to Almaty and Urumqi this year is testament to the potential for cooperation that Singapore sees in this region.
11. In this climate of global uncertainty and disruptive changes, Singapore businesses must adopt a bold and adaptive mind-set to venture beyond the traditional and familiar. Kazakhstan will be a good place to start, given its sizeable market, rapidly developing economic sectors, and strong potential for growth. Our companies must be open, nimble and adaptable to seize the opportunities in Kazakhstan and the region.
12. Through this programme and through the interactions at the Forum today, businesses from Kazakhstan and Singapore would be able to find good partners. Business matching forums are a little bit like matchmaking, and governments are like fathers- and mothers-in-law. Our job is to bring all of you young people together to meet good partners through the Business Forum today, your businesses will get married, and hopefully in time to come, bear fruit and have many small businesses all around Kazakhstan and Central Asia.
13. With that, let me wish all of you a fruitful discussion, and a good time ahead at the Forum. Thank you.