Seize opportunities in Poland, Czech Republic: President Tan

President Tony Tan speaking during the Poland-Singapore Business Forum in Warsaw, Poland, on May 22, 2017.
President Tony Tan speaking during the Poland-Singapore Business Forum in Warsaw, Poland, on May 22, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

Both Poland and the Czech Republic have fast-growing economies and vibrant societies, and Singapore companies should capitalise on the opportunities in the two nations, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday.

The two Central European nations hold promise, thanks to their central and strategic location in Europe, strong industrial base and highly skilled workforce, he said.

But many Singaporeans are unaware of the opportunities available, he added, and both countries have also been focused on their traditional markets in Europe.

This is set to change, with bilateral ties growing and mutual interest to strengthen economic cooperation, he told Singapore reporters as he wrapped up state visits to both countries. "There are opportunities for Singapore in both countries, as well as for them in our region."

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Poland has had uninterrupted growth since the 1990s, and the Czech Republic is a good manufacturing base with its strong research and development capabilities.

While both countries currently conduct about 80 per cent of their trade with European nations, they are serious about diversifying to China and South-east Asia, he said.

Dr Tan, who was accompanied by a delegation from 15 companies, urged Singaporean firms to take advantage of this and look beyond familiar Western European nations like Britain and Germany.

He acknowledged that entering a new market may take more effort, but said "there is no substitute for doing the legwork, coming here and talking to people, finding your opportunities".

He was in Poland for three days and the Czech Republic for four days. With these latest state visits, he completes his tour of the Visegrad Four - the four key economies in Central and Eastern Europe, including Hungary and the Slovak Republic, which he visited in 2013.

During this trip, he witnessed the signing of six agreements, which he said will pave the way for further cooperation in business and research.

Dr Tan also met Polish President Andrzej Duda and Czech President Milos Zeman, with whom he discussed the early ratification of the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.

The landmark deal - the first between the EU and an Asean nation - recently hit a snag after a binding ruling mandating that such trade deals must be ratified by all 28 EU member and sub-regional governments.

"This is not an easy agreement to negotiate and progress will be slow, but we're making progress step by step," said Dr Tan.

He also said he was impressed by the beauty and history of cities such as Warsaw in Poland and the mediaeval town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.

He said he was struck by how resilient both countries were, having gone through "terrible suffering" during World War II.

"But they have picked themselves up. They have not only survived but continue to do well. This holds resonance for Singaporeans: We have to continue, despite all the challenges that face us, like changing our economy, terrorism, radicalism. We have to be resilient and overcome all these challenges - we can do it," he said.

Dr Tan arrives home today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Seize opportunities in Poland, Czech Republic: President Tan'. Print Edition | Subscribe