Iswaran: India-Singapore relations on cusp of new era

Mr Iswaran (far right) meeting Indian minister M. Venkaiah Naidu in New Delhi yesterday. With the two ministers are (from left) Dr Nandita Chatterjee, Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation; Mr Ajay Mittal, Secretary of th
Mr Iswaran (far right) meeting Indian minister M. Venkaiah Naidu in New Delhi yesterday. With the two ministers are (from left) Dr Nandita Chatterjee, Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation; Mr Ajay Mittal, Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting; and Mr Rajiv Gauba, Secretary of the Ministry of Urban Development.PHOTO: PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU, INDIA

Ties between India and Singapore are at an "important juncture", Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said at a business forum ahead of high-level talks between the prime ministers of both countries today.

"We start on a very strong foundation in terms of the relationship between the two countries," he said in a speech at the India-Singapore Business Forum here yesterday.

"There are good opportunities on both sides to work together. Those opportunities are defined on the one hand by India's priority areas... (They are) also defined by where Singapore's capabilities are."

Mr Iswaran outlined how there is scope for further collaboration between the two countries in areas such as India's smart cities project and water management, as well as in transport, where India is upgrading railway infrastructure.

The forum comes as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong began a five-day working visit to India yesterday. He will meet his counterpart Narendra Modi today.

"We are looking at a new era," Mr Iswaran said. He added that there was a lot of scope for cooperation between the Indian and Singapore business communities.

Singapore shares close political and economic ties with India and was instrumental in helping India forge close ties with Asean.

Economic relations expanded after the two countries inked a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement in 2005, with bilateral trade increasing from US$6.7 billion over 2004-2005  to US$16.9 billion (S$23 billion) over 2014-2015.

Singapore remains one of India's biggest foreign investors while Indian companies often use Singapore to raise funds for their global operations. 

Mr Modi has been keen to tap Singapore's expertise, particularly in skills training and urban infrastructure, both identified as priority areas for India's government. 

Singapore has already set up a skills centre in Delhi and is helping to set up another one in Udaipur in Rajasthan state.

It is also helping the Andhra Pradesh state government to develop its new capital city, Amaravati.

Yesterday's forum to discuss opportunities for cooperation between the two countries was organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in partnership with the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and IE Singapore .

India's Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, who also addressed the business forum, noted that Singapore could offer a lot of expertise in infrastructure growth and could also be a source of capital for India.

"Singapore can offer a lot of expertise in infrastructure growth. India needs capital and Singapore is the preferred international destination for banking and finance. We can use Singapore-based organisations to source global capital," said Mr Prabhu.

Three business agreements were signed at the meeting, including one between  CII and SBF on the enhancement of business relations between India and Singapore. 

Mr Iswaran also met Union Minister for Urban Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Information and Broadcasting M. Venkaiah Naidu yesterday, and both men discussed India's smart cities initiative.

During his trip, PM Lee will also visit Udaipur for the launch of the Centre of Excellence for Tourism Training, which is part of the skills development collaboration under the India-Singapore Strategic Partnership signed last November.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2016, with the headline 'Iswaran: India-S'pore relations on cusp of new era'. Print Edition | Subscribe