Speech by Minister S Iswaran at the Sri Lanka Singapore Business Forum

Speech by Minister S Iswaran at the Sri Lanka Singapore Business Forum


Your Excellency, Minister Malik Samarawickrama,

Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade;

Mr Rajendra Theagarajah,

Chairman, The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce;

Mr Teo Siong Seng,

Chairman, Singapore Business Federation;

Mr Shamil Mendis,

President, Sri Lanka-Singapore Business Council

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Morning.


1.           Singapore and Sri Lanka share a long history going back at least to the 1800s, and possibly even centuries earlier given our similar locations along ancient maritime trade routes. Today, the signs of Sri Lankan influence on the architecture, culture and social fabric of Singapore can still be found in several areas. To cite just a few examples, the Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple was established in the 1850s by Sri Lankan immigrants to Singapore to honour Lord Vinayagar and serve the religious needs of their community. It should come as no surprise to you that the location of the temple is at Ceylon Road in Singapore. Similarly, the current site of the Supreme Court of Singapore is still referred to as Colombo Court and this year also marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Ceylon Sports Club. The Sri Lankan community in Singapore remains a strong one that has made significant contributions and continues its links with Sri Lanka. Many of its members have also risen to prominence in professional and public life, and this is something that we welcome, from the business, education, legal and administration aspect, as they continue to make important contributions.

SLSFTA Journey

2.           Yesterday, Sri Lanka and Singapore marked the beginning of a new chapter in our growing economic ties.  Witnessed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister Malik Samarawickrama and I signed the Sri Lanka - Singapore Free Trade Agreement. I recall in June 2016, during my visit here, I mentioned that Sri Lanka and Singapore would be starting negotiations. We had a very ambitious timeline set for us by the two Prime Ministers and this was supposed to be concluded by June last year. Nevertheless, the fact that we are able to conclude this a mere year and a half later, it is a remarkable achievement and a testament of the commitment from both sides. The SLSFTA's significance comes from it being Sri Lanka's first comprehensive bilateral free trade agreement. I shall not go into the details of the negotiations, but it would suffice to say that my friend and colleague, Minister Malik, and his team earned Singapore's respect and admiration for the professional and dedicated manner in which they overcame many challenges to conclude an agreement that signals, unambiguously, Sri Lanka's determination to connect with global markets in order to secure a better and more prosperous future for both its businesses and people.

Key Features of the SLSFTA

3.           When the SLSFTA is in force, Sri Lankan importers will be able to benefit as custom duties are reduced in phases over the next few years for goods imported from Singapore. This would also benefit Sri Lankan consumers, increasing the variety and affordability of high quality products. The Trade in Services chapter creates more opportunities for our professionals in sectors such as Professional Services, Environmental Services, Construction and Tourism to offer their respective services in each other's markets. The Government Procurement Chapter offers companies the assurance that international tenders for Government projects will be conducted fairly and transparently, while the Investment Chapter will help attract more investments by providing investors with assurances that their investments will be protected. Already, we are seeing significant momentum in our bilateral economic ties, from 2016 to 2017, bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and Singapore increased by more than 25% to 300 billion Sri Lankan rupees. Our bilateral trade in Services and Foreign Direct Investments also show an upward trend.

Business interest have been on the rise

4.           We expect this momentum to continue and we are seeing encouraging signs of it, as more Singapore companies explore opportunities in Sri Lanka's growth sectors, such as hospitality, consumer goods, aquaculture and infrastructure. Sri Lanka is also an attractive market for Singapore's Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) and this is a particularly noteworthy fact. For the large companies to come into these markets is perhaps something that we would expect or anticipate, but for the SMEs to come forward, it means that they are comfortable and see opportunities for business here.  Later this afternoon, I will be visiting a couple of Singapore companies' developments in Colombo – one is a boutique capsule hotel, a joint venture between Star Anise Hotels and Resorts and a local partner, and the other is Colombo City Centre, a mixed-used development by Next Story Group and Sri Lankan conglomerate Abans Group.

5.           I would also like to take the opportunity to congratulate the businesses that will be signing MOUs or other business agreements later today, including Food Studio with Shangri-La Mall and Havelock City on the management of food courts, Ark Holdings with the Beijing Genome Institute to set up a crab farm, and a Letter Of Intent with HPL to redevelop Grand Oriental Hotel and operate under the Four Seasons brand – these companies have grown beyond Singapore's market and made the decision to seek new opportunities because they see value in the markets of the region. These new ventures join the Singapore companies that are already in Sri Lanka – most of you here would be familiar with Prima Group, or might have wondered if they were a Sri Lankan company, as they were one of the first companies to establish operations in Sri Lanka back in 1977.

6.           The SLSFTA provides yet another avenue to grow your businesses, as well as facilitate partnerships based on each partner's networks, experience, and expertise. For those here today with interest in the Sri Lankan market, or are interested in finding a Singapore or Sri Lankan partner, I hope you will make full use of this business forum organised by the Singapore Business Federation and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce to increase your knowledge of the market and forge new partnerships.  This bilateral agreement is not just about what we can do together in each other's market, but also about what we can do together looking at the opportunities in each other's region, ASEAN and South Asia, and possibly beyond these markets as well.

7.           I wish all of you a fruitful day ahead. Thank you.

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