Tharman in Russia to explore more trade, investment ties

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is in Moscow to co-chair the eighth session of the Russia-Singapore Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC).
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is in Moscow to co-chair the eighth session of the Russia-Singapore Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC).PHOTO: REUTERS

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will be in Russia for a two-day visit starting today.

He is in Moscow to co-chair the eighth session of the Russia-Singapore Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC), together with Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.

During the session, Singapore and Russia will take stock of their trade and investment relations, and explore opportunities for further cooperation, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement yesterday.

An issue that is likely to surface is the proposed Eurasian Economic Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Singapore first proposed the pact in 2015 with the economic bloc comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, which together represent a market of about 183 million people.

The FTA could present opportunities for Singapore firms in such sectors as oil and gas, master-planning, infrastructure, hospitality, education, agriculture and tourism.

After the completion of a feasibility study, the first round of FTA negotiations took place in August. A second round of talks is likely to happen next month.

As Singapore and Russia mark 50 years of diplomatic relations next year, the IGC will also discuss plans to commemorate this milestone.

The IGC was formed to enhance broad-based collaboration between the two countries, which take turns hosting the high-level annual meeting. The first IGC session in 2010 was co-chaired on the Singapore side by then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. Mr Tharman has been co-chair since 2011.

Over the years, the IGC has been instrumental in expanding bilateral cooperation in many areas, including governance, legal cooperation and trade. Singapore is one of only two Asean countries with an IGC with Russia. The other is Vietnam.

After the IGC session, Mr Tharman and Mr Shuvalov will attend the plenary session of Russia's Open Innovation Forum (OIF), an annual technology forum.

The two leaders will also open the 12th Russia-Singapore Business Forum, organised by International Enterprise (IE) Singapore as part of OIF 2017. Over 120 representatives from Russia and Singapore are expected to attend the business forum, which will focus on smart cities and urban solutions this year.

Joining Mr Tharman on his trip are: Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Manpower and Home Affairs; Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah; Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, and National Development Koh Poh Koon; and other government officials.

The delegation will also be accompanied by a business mission led by IE Singapore and the Singapore Business Federation.

Mr Tharman's trip is the latest in a series of high-level exchanges between Singapore and Russia, coming after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's visit to Moscow last year.

Relations between the two countries are underpinned by strong bilateral trade, which has grown from $1.88 billion in 2007 to $4.56 billion last year.

Tourists from Russia are also one of the largest groups of visitors from Europe, with 70,000 arrivals from the country last year - a 10 per cent increase from 2015.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2017, with the headline 'Tharman in Russia to explore more trade, investment ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe