16th February 2012, www.businesstimes.com.sg, By Malminderjit Singh
SINGAPORE companies can look forward to increasing business opportunities and partnerships in Sri Lanka as a result of a pact inked between the two countries yesterday to deepen economic ties.
The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI) signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at strengthening cooperation and promoting business and investment relations between the two countries, in conjunction with the state visit by Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The signing ceremony at the Istana yesterday was witnessed by Mr Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The MOU calls for a deeper collaboration between the private sectors of both nations and enhancing institutional relations. It also seeks regular exchanges of information on investment policies and projects.
The MOU also emphasises the creation of a favourable environment for the promotion of business and investment in all economic sectors as well as using the two countries as a hub to trade and invest in the region.
A key element of deepening ties is through a more frequent flow of people and ideas, and the MOU will look to achieving this as it will formalise a mutual exchange of visits and assistance in the organisation of business delegations and investment missions. It will also look at promoting joint- venture collaborations to trade or invest in the two countries or in a third market.
Some of the initiatives in the MOU are already taking shape with the SBF leading the way for Singapore businesses to establish a presence in Sri Lanka.
'SBF will be leading a business mission to Sri Lanka in the second quarter with a view to tapping opportunities in urban planning and solutions, infrastructure, real estate development, education, healthcare services, manufacturing and trading, and logistics,' said SBF chief executive officer Ho Meng Kit.
SBF's efforts in engaging Sri Lanka for Singapore businesses are not new though, said Mr Ho. 'SBF has been engaging Sri Lanka since 2006 when it led a business mission to Colombo to evaluate the business potential there. There have been regular exchanges between both sides over the years, with Singapore companies showing increasing interest to participate in Sri Lanka's post-war reconstruction efforts.'
On a national level, Singapore's economic relations with Sri Lanka have been increasing steadily, especially after the civil war that plagued the South Asian country for decades.
Singapore's total trade with Sri Lanka in 2011 amounted to $1.85 billion, which represents a 53.5 per cent increase over the 2009 bilateral trade volume, following the end of the civil war in the first half of that year. This figure makes Sri Lanka Singapore's 37th ranked trading partner globally, whereas Singapore is one of Sri Lanka's top five trading partners.
There are more than 300 Sri Lankan companies registered here and Singapore's investments in Sri Lanka - which cumulatively amounted to $500 million at the end of 2011 - are diversified across a wide range of sectors including property development, food and beverage processing, logistics, telecommunications and hospitality. Some of the Singapore companies in these sectors in Sri Lanka include Asia Pacific Breweries, Keppel Logistics, Ghim Li Group and Pico Global Services.
Mr Rajapaksa is here on his first bilateral visit at the invitation of President Tony Tan Keng Yam. Yesterday, he called upon Dr Tan and Mr Lee at the Istana.
PM Lee reiterated Singapore's commitment to further bilateral cooperation and told Mr Rajapaksa that Singapore was prepared to enhance the existing technical cooperation programmes with Sri Lanka under the Singapore Cooperation Programme. The enhancements would focus on human resource development and economic development. They include trade facilitation and promotion, and tourism and hospitality.
President Tan hosted a state banquet at the Istana last night for the Sri Lankan president. Mr Rajapaksa, who is also Sri Lanka's Minister for Defence, will also attend the Singapore Airshow and meet Singapore Cabinet ministers.
Image: PM Lee with President Rajapaksa at the Istana yesterday.
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