Many opportunities to strengthen ties with Italy: President Tony Tan

President Tan (second from left) delivered a speech and offered a toast at the state banquet hosted by Italian President Sergio Mattarella (front row, third from left) at the Palazzo del Quirinale in Rome on Monday. With them were Mr Mattarella's dau
President Tan (second from left) delivered a speech and offered a toast at the state banquet hosted by Italian President Sergio Mattarella (front row, third from left) at the Palazzo del Quirinale in Rome on Monday. With them were Mr Mattarella's daughter, Laura (far left), and Dr Tan's wife, Mary.PHOTO: MCI

Singapore's geographical location and Italy's rich cultural and historical heritage hold many opportunities that can strengthen ties between the two countries, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

Speaking at a state banquet on Monday, he noted that Singapore can be a gateway to the Asia-Pacific region for Italian businesses.

Italy, famed for its fine food and fashion as well as rich history and music, offers many opportunities for Singapore businessmen to explore, he added.

These new trade and investment possibilities will get an added boost when the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is ratified, he said.

The FTA, the first to be concluded between the EU and an Asean country, will also increase Italian exports to Singapore, which is already the European country's largest export destination in South-east Asia, he noted.

Over 500 Italian companies operate in Singapore, including brands like Prada, Ferragamo and Ferrero.

The FTA will protect Italy's fine agricultural produce, including Calabrian olives, parmesan cheese and prosciutto ham, through geographical indicators, said Dr Tan, who is on a state visit to Italy.

The dinner in an ornate ballroom at the Palazzo del Quirinale was hosted by Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

Mr Mattarella, in his speech, underlined the crucial role that economic, commercial and financial cooperation plays in world affairs. "Our economies are increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent, and major international and economic crises have proven to be conducive to political and social instability."

He noted that Singapore's model of "harmonious co-existence built on diversity" has contributed to its stability and well-being. This model has become all the more important in a world "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 that Singapore's academic and research institutions hold for students in Europe as well as Italian researchers.

Highlighting the signing of a bilateral science and technology agreement on Monday, he said: "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."

Dr Tan, similarly, stressed that education and research links, defence ties and even cultural cooperation are growing. There is high regard in Singapore for Italy's fashion, music, cuisine, sports, rich history and natural beauty, he added.

"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," he said.

Yesterday, Dr Tan laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in honour of soldiers killed in World War I. He also met Commissioner of Rome Francesco Tronca.

Separately, a new book, Italy And Singapore: Converging Differences, was launched by the Italy-Asean Association. It aims to raise awareness of Singapore's importance for Italy and look at future scenarios for both countries.

The book's editor, Professor Romeo Orlandi, hopes the countries can learn from each other's experience. "History and geography kept Italy and Singapore apart... but globalisation can (produce) common ground for cooperation among companies, institutions and governments."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2016, with the headline 'Many opportunities to strengthen ties with Italy: President Tan'. Print Edition | Subscribe