Both Singapore and Sri Lanka are committed to concluding negotiations on a free trade agreement before the end of the year, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Colombo yesterday.
"It will be a modern, comprehensive, high-quality, ambitious free trade agreement. It will demonstrate to the world that both of us are open for business and we encourage all investments," he said at the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs after talks with his counterpart Ravi Karunanayake.
Dr Balakrishnan described Sri Lanka and Singapore as complementary hubs, with Sri Lanka being a hub for transshipment and economic ties across the Indian Ocean, while Singapore is a hub in South-east Asia.
"The bigger the pipeline we build to connect these two hubs, the greater the opportunities will be for our respective regions," he said.
With the free trade agreement, he said, Singapore can serve as Sri Lanka's gateway to South-east Asia, while Sri Lanka will be Singapore's gateway in the Indian Ocean.
He also said that with both countries being small states, they could work closely together to weather the challenges of surviving and thriving in a world that is changing so dramatically.
"Sri Lanka and Singapore have had a longstanding strong friendship. It is anchored on our culture, historical and kinship ties which actually go back centuries," Dr Balakrishnan said, referring to the fact that Singapore has been home to a small but vibrant Sri Lankan community since the 19th century.
Dr Balakrishnan said he was encouraged by the rapid developments in Colombo and the growth potential in Sri Lanka, which has led to a surge of interest from Singapore companies. There are currently more than 350 Singapore companies in Sri Lanka, across a wide range of sectors. Dr Balakrishnan is on a four-day trip to Sri Lanka until tomorrow, during which he will visit Colombo and Jaffna.