ROME - Singapore can serve as a gateway to the Asia-Pacific region for Italian businesses, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said on Monday (May 23) night.
And Italy offers numerous opportunities for Singapore businessmen to explore, he said in a speech at a state banquet held in his honour by Italian President Sergio Mattarella on the second day of Dr Tan's state visit to Italy.
Singapore is already the largest export destination for Italy in South-east Asia, with more than 500 Italian companies operating there, including brands like Prada, Ferragamo and Ferrero, and bilateral trade and investment will receive a further boost when the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is ratified, said Dr Tan.
The FTA is the first to be concluded between the EU and an Asean country. It will also provide protection to Italy's fine agricultural produce including Calabrian olives, parmesan cheese and prosciutto ham through geographical indicators, said Dr Tan, speaking in an ornate ballroom at the Palazzo del Quirinale, an official residence of the Italian President.
Indeed, economic, commercial and financial cooperation plays a crucial role in the current international context, Mr Mattarella said in his speech.
"Our economies are increasingly interconnected and interdependent and major international and economic crises have proven to be conducive to political and social instability," he said. Mr Mattarella also said Italy was convinced the Asean Economic Community will bring about benefits in terms of development and stability for the region.
The Italian leader noted that Singapore's model of "harmonious coexistence built on diversity" has also contributed to its stability and well-being. This model has become all the more important in the current international climate "marked by tensions and conflicts often generated by the inability to understand, respect and promote diversity", he said.
He also spoke of the growing influence and appeal the Republic's academic and research institutions hold for students throughout Europe and for an expanding pool of Italian researchers.
"We are convinced that a revived collaboration in these fields can be fruitful, in terms of both social and scientific progress and of potential further development of our companies' activities," said Mr Mattarella, highlighting the signing of a bilateral science and technology agreement earlier on Monday.
Education and research links, defence ties and even cultural cooperation between the two countries are growing, Dr Tan said. There is high regard in Singapore for Italy's fashion, music, cuisine, sports, rich history and natural beauty, he added.
Italy was one of just 13 countries which established diplomatic relations with Singapore in its independence year, 1965, and there have been high-level visits involving both countries' leaders since then. This, however, is the first time a Singapore president is making a state visit to Italy.
Said Dr Tan: "It is my sincere hope that the strong partnership and deep ties of friendship that exist between Singapore and Italy will continue to grow and flourish."