South Asia, South-east Asia looking at closer integration: DPM Heng

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat calls on Indian PM Narendra Modi.

NEW DELHI - Both India and Singapore, as well as their respective regions, are looking at how they can more closely integrate their economies so as to create opportunities for their people, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Friday (Oct 4).

"There are many areas of complementarity between the two regions," he told Singapore media at the end of his four-day visit here.

"With this growing global uncertainty... it is even more important for South Asia and South-east Asia to work closely together to find new opportunities for collaboration," he added.

DPM Heng discussed ways to step up cooperation when he called on India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, in particular how they could improve trade and investments between their regions, including in infrastructure, fintech, research and innovation.

They also discussed promoting tourism development. Said Mr Heng: "Every country has something unique and special, and by promoting the flow of people, we not only create more opportunities for collaboration for business leaders to meet one another and to explore new business models, but also promote deeper understanding between people from both regions. This is an important aspect of promoting more stable and peaceful global development."

He told reporters that India and Asean need to build closer and better connectivity by air, sea and land, and work out specific goals where companies can explore opportunities that would be beneficial to people on both sides.

Both India and Singapore are also committed to upholding the multilateral trading system, he added.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement: "DPM Heng and PM Modi reaffirmed the strong, broad-based and future-oriented relationship between Singapore and India, underpinned by frequent high-level exchanges and robust cooperation across various sectors."

"They also discussed India's social and economic transformation, how technology has changed the way governments provide services and reach out to citizens," it added.

This week, DPM Heng also met Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, who is also Railways Minister, and Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri, who is also Civil Aviation Minister.

One topic discussed was the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership being negotiated by Asean's 10 members and six key partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. DPM Heng said he had a better understanding of his colleagues' concerns as well as wishes.

"Step by step, we should build confidence in the benefits of free trade, of deeper economic integration," he said.

DPM Heng was a co-chair of the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit, and spoke at the closing session on Friday.

On connectivity, he said multimodal transport will become even more important in future. He added that besides movement of people and goods, movement of data "will be of critical importance".

Also speaking at the same session was fellow co-chair, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who said South Asia should emerge as a "connected, competitive region".

She noted that poverty was her country's biggest enemy, and spoke of the importance of embracing pluralism in South Asia. Bangladesh, she added, was geographically positioned as a bridge between South-east Asia and South Asia, and can be a hub for connectivity.

DPM Heng also called on PM Hasina on Friday evening.

MFA said: "DPM Heng and Prime Minister Hasina discussed the deepening of ties between Singapore and Bangladesh, including potential areas for cooperation such as infrastructure development and strengthening connectivity between the two countries."