Much untapped potential for partnerships between Italy and Singapore, says President Tony Tan

President Tony Tan Keng Yam (centre) speaking to media at the end of his eight-day state visit to Italy and the Holy See, on May 29, 2016. He is accompanied by Non-Resident Ambassador to the Holy See Barry Desker (left) and Non-Resident Ambassador to
President Tony Tan Keng Yam (centre) speaking to media at the end of his eight-day state visit to Italy and the Holy See, on May 29, 2016. He is accompanied by Non-Resident Ambassador to the Holy See Barry Desker (left) and Non-Resident Ambassador to Italy Ow Chio Kiat.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

ROME - Singaporeans can seize the economic and cultural opportunities that Italy can offer, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Sunday (May 29).

Although Singapore has traditionally reached out more to English-speaking countries, both the Republic and Italy have emerged as hubs in their respective regions and there is much untapped potential for partnerships in areas such as trade, research and design.

Dr Tan was speaking at the end of his eight-day state visit to Italy and the Holy See - the first by a Singapore head of state - which he called a "fruitful" one.

"The visit is a unique meeting of old friends, enhanced interests and emerging opportunities," he said.

He hopes to see more Singapore trade delegations making contacts in Italy, which is the third-largest economy in the European Union and is accelerating its privatisation of public companies to boost economic growth.

"It's all a matter of expanding our own horizon and looking at Italy as a means, or as a new market, as well as an entry into Europe."

Italy is also strong in academic excellence and research, particularly in science and technology, which would be relevant to what the Committee on the Future Economy is looking into, Dr Tan said.

Rome's Sapienza University, which he visited, has produced notable scientists such as Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi. It inked a deal on research and educational exchanges with Nanyang Technological University last week - one of 13 agreements signed during Dr Tan's trip covering areas such as education, research as well as cultural and business cooperation.

"This is a symbol of interest on both sides to review and institutionalise our ongoing collaborations," said Dr Tan.

Singapore can also tap Italy's flair for design to raise the design quality of its own products or create joint products, he said.

"When we move forward to a future economy now based on innovation, technology and new products, I think we should see how we can bring design in," Dr Tan said.

"You can have the best engineering and technology in the world, but if you can't display it well, if it's not something which the public or companies would like, then it's not going to do very well."

For Italy, which is looking to diversify its economy beyond traditional partners such as the EU, the United States and China, Singapore can be a hub for Italian firms to tap growing markets in the region, especially with the formation of the Asean Economic Community.

The EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement will, when ratified, boost trade and investment.

Singapore is also happy to share insights on counter-terrorism and religious rehabilitation, which Italy has expressed interest in, Dr Tan said.

In Rome, Dr Tan met Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who accepted Dr Tan's invitation to visit Singapore. He also met Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and other senior officials.

Last Saturday, in Vatican City, he met Pope Francis, who accepted his invitation to visit Singapore. Dr Tan is due to arrive in Singapore on Monday.