16 Dec 2016

The Business Times

By LEE U-WEN

Singapore

SINGAPORE and the Philippines are stepping up efforts to enhance economic and business cooperation in the coming years, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Thursday.

Already, trade promotion agency International Enterprise (IE) Singapore is busy encouraging firms here to venture beyond the capital Manila and explore opportunities in other cities such as Davao and Cebu.

Dr Tan was speaking at the Istana during a state banquet he hosted in honour of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who is in town for a two-day state visit.

In a toast speech, Dr Tan noted that Singapore firms are keen to invest in the Philippines, which he hailed as one of Asia's fastest growing economies. He highlighted the work of IE Singapore in helping some local companies from the renewable energy and consumerism sector to secure their first projects in the Philippines this year. The agency intends to devote more resources to step up its presence in the Philippines in 2017.

Dr Tan singled out SIA Engineering and Singtel as among the Singapore companies that can contribute to the development of quality infrastructure, urban planning and ICT services in the Philippines.

The business communities from the two sides also have a platform - the Philippines-Singapore Business Council - which they use to forge stronger ties and explore commercial opportunities.

Singapore was the Philippines' fourth-largest trading partner in 2015 (after Japan, China, and the US), and the fifth-largest foreign investor (after the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, and the US). Singapore and the Philippines - two of the five founding members of Asean - established diplomatic ties back in 1969. Dr Tan described the relationship as a "robust friendship anchored in a shared vision of peace, harmony and prosperity for our countries and the region".

Dr Tan added that the strong economic links are complemented by warm people-to-people relations, with about 700,000 Filipinos visiting Singapore every year.

"Many Singaporeans enjoy visiting the beautiful beaches in the Visayas and the majestic mountains of the Cordillera region. Singaporeans also love the delicious Philippine cuisine such as adobo l�chon and sisig," said the Singapore president.

With better connectivity between the Philippines and Singapore, and to regions beyond, Dr Tan said that people-to-people exchanges can continue to grow.

"This way, fellow Singaporeans will be able to see what my wife and I saw during my state visit to the Philippines in 2014: a fellow Southeast-Asian nation that is resilient, hardy and talented," he said.

Mr Duterte, a 71-year-old who took office in June, is making his rounds to the other Asean member states as the Philippines gears up to chair the bloc in 2017. He arrived here on Wednesday night after completing a two-day visit to Cambodia.

"I came to Singapore with a singular purpose: to renew and reaffirm the friendship and cooperation between our nations and peoples," he said in his toast speech.

"We have reason to celebrate. Over nearly five decades, we have seen our ties develop as we add more facets of cooperation to what is now a multi-dimensional relationship," he added.

Dr Tan wished the Philippines "every success" for its chairmanship of Asean next year, which also coincides with the regional grouping's 50th anniversary.

"The Philippines and Singapore share a vision and goal of maintaining peace and stability for our region . . . You may be assured of Singapore's support for your chairmanship," he said.

Earlier in the day, Mr Duterte called on Dr Tan at the Istana and they reaffirmed their countries' bilateral relations. Mr Duterte then met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and they discussed issues including terrorism, the South China Sea and America's role in the region.

Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission