Singapore exports to the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan have grown fivefold from 2016, and Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said yesterday that there is potential to increase trade flows further.
Singapore firms are already exploring cooperation with those in Turkmenistan in the chemicals and private education sectors, areas in which companies here have strong value propositions, Dr Koh said.
But the total bilateral trade in goods between Singapore and Turkmenistan came up to $43.4 million last year, forming just a small proportion of the Republic's trade globally.
Dr Koh told the forum at Shangri-La Hotel that this indicates potential for further growth.
He was speaking at the inaugural Singapore-Turkmenistan Business Forum, organised in conjunction with the two-day state visit of Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow ending today.
Nine agreements were inked at the forum, including seven memorandums of understanding (MOUs).
Singapore Business Federation chairman Teo Siong Seng said in a welcome address that growth in bilateral trade, driven largely by the increase in exports, is indicative of rising interest between both business communities.
Singapore's main exports to Turkmenistan include machinery and equipment, mineral fuels and rubber.
"As one of Central Asia's fastest-growing economies and endowed with vast natural resources, Turkmenistan has attracted some of our companies because of its economic potential, and they have taken steps to establish trade and investment links," said Mr Teo.
Turkmenistan's growth rate this year is forecast at 6 per cent by the Asian Development Bank.
Mr Chary Gylyjov, vice-chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan, said at the event that investments act as the main instrument for the diversification of his country's economy. "Annually, the share of investment allocated to the economy is over 30 per cent of gross domestic product," he added.
The share of foreign investment is up to 13 per cent of the total volume and, last year, the volume of investment in the country totalled US$11.5 billion (S$16 billion).
Dr Koh said bilateral relations have been growing with exchanges at the political level, and he expressed hope that "these political engagements can be bolstered by commercial interactions".
At the government level, Turkmenistan and Singapore are working to create conducive business conditions, said Dr Koh.
For example, both countries just ended negotiations on an Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, which reduces withholding tax rates of dividends, interest and royalties. This is expected to boost cross-border trade and investment.
He also encouraged the Turkmenistan people to consider Singapore as a springboard into South-east Asia.
The MOUs signed yesterday included one on the development of the chemical and fertiliser sectors in Turkmenistan, and another for cooperation between higher education institutions.
The Association of Banks in Singapore and the State Bank for Foreign Economic Affairs of Turkmenistan signed a cooperation agreement to strengthen collaboration in banking and financial services, including cross-border money transfers and payments.