ISTANBUL (Turkey) - Trade negotiators from Singapore and Turkey are making good progress on a free trade agreement (FTA), which when completed can be a base for both sides to do more together, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday.
"The goods part is more or less negotiated, the services part is always more difficult, but that's where there will be greater dividends," he said of the FTA at a discussion with Turkish business leaders here on the second day of his four-day visit to the country.
"If we are able to overcome these difficulties, we will be able to do more together," he added.
He told 20 chief executives of major Turkish companies that with the pact, both sides could work together in a range of areas, including government procurement and transportation.
"We hope we will be able to use this as a symbol of the good relations between our two countries, as well as a scheme by which we can strengthen our cooperation and yield practical benefits to companies which want to trade and invest in one another."
Progress on the FTA, which Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang described as a "high quality and comprehensive" one, is all the more significant as talks were launched only when then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Singapore in January this year.
Mr Lee is expected to take stock of that progress in Ankara on Tuesday, when he calls on Mr Erdogan, who is now President.
Total bilateral trade amounted to S$1.4 billion last year- a figure Mr Lee noted was still very modest, but which had the potential to grow much further.
He informed his audience that Singapore is at the centre of a vibrant region of 600 million, with a more integrated Asean Economic Community by the end of next year, and countries discussing wide-ranging free trade deals such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Singapore, he added, was also upgrading its economy and was looking for new partners to invest in it, as well as new opportunities to trade and to invest in areas like mass transit systems or consumer goods.
Speaking before Mr Lee, Turkey's Economy Minister Nihat Zeybecki encouraged businessmen on both sides to cooperate and invest more in their respective countries. The economies of Turkey and Singapore had a combined size of US$1 trillion, he noted, saying that unfortunately, trade with each other was negligible.
Turkey was a gateway to Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, he said, as he assured Singapore businesses that his government was committed to fixing obstacles they might face.
He also said the government procurement chapter of the FTA was the most challenging area for Turkey, and hoped its sensitivities in this area could be taken into consideration.
Trade agency IE Singapore and the Singapore Business Federation also organised a trip by a 20-strong business delegation to Turkey in conjunction with Mr Lee's visit and held the 4th Turkey-Singapore business forum on Monday afternoon.
Key sectors Singapore players can invest in are consumer electronics, medical technology and infrastructure, both agencies said in a press statement here.
On Monday, Mr Lee also visited the historic Dolmabahce Palace and the bustling Grand Bazaar. He flies to Ankara, the capital, on Monday night where he will meet top Turkish leaders on Tuesday.