Singapore and South Korea enjoy very good ties and have made progress cooperating in medical technology, research development and business, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
But both countries could benefit even more from a boost to their 2006 bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) and an air services agreement that is in the works, Mr Lee added, as he pushed for progress on both fronts during his meeting with South Korean President Park Geun Hye.
On the FTA, he urged officials of both countries to "take an aggressive look" at a review he and Ms Park agreed on when they met last December, the Prime Minister's press secretary Chang Li Lin told reporters. He said he hoped the FTA would make a "quantum leap" to be in line with the trade agreements that each had signed separately with other nations, Ms Chang added.
Last year, trade between South Korea and Singapore reached $50.9 billion, and the year before, it was $52.7 billion.
The two leaders also talked about an air services agreement which they had discussed in October last year and again, last December. Both expressed the hope that there will be progress, said Ms Chang.
The agreement would provide for more flights to be added between Singapore and South Korea, to cater to the increasing two-way flow of travellers and to strengthen the position of Singapore and Seoul as aviation hubs.
The two leaders' meeting preceded the Asean- Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Busan to celebrate 25 years of relations between Asean and South Korea. During their talks, Mr Lee noted that Singapore and South Korea had collaborated successfully in many areas.
Many South Korean companies, for instance, are involved in infrastructure projects in Singapore, and academic institutions of both countries also have exchange programmes, he said, adding that he had a meeting with 23 Singapore students who were on exchange programmes in Busan.
He also said he looked forward to marking 40 years of diplomatic ties between their countries next year, when President Tony Tan Keng Yam would make a state visit to South Korea.
Ms Park, in her speech, said she looked forward to further cooperation between South Korea's "creative economy" and Singapore's "knowledge-based" one. She added: "As we look ahead to the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties, we can expect to further promote links (between the two economies)."
Earlier yesterday, Mr Lee was made an honorary citizen of Seoul in a ceremony at Seoul City Hall.
In his address, he pointed out the similarities between South Korea's capital and Singapore, saying both were densely populated cities embracing diversity and sharing similar challenges in housing, transport and an ageing population.
He said he was happy the people and officials of both cities were visiting each other often and that people-to-people ties were growing stronger.
While in Seoul, he also met the city's mayor, Mr Park Won Soon, whom he invited to Singapore.
President Park, Mr Lee, and other Asean leaders are in Busan for the two-day commemorative summit ending today.They will take stock of the cooperation between Asean and South Korea, and discuss the future direction of ties among the nations.
Mr Lee said yesterday that the partnership between the regional bloc and South Korea has been "fruitful". Asean and South Korea have "both made a lot of progress during that period" and he expressed the hope that the summit can "give our relationship another significant boost".