Timor Leste urges Singapore to play bigger role in its development story

SINGAPORE - The young South-east Asian nation of Timor Leste is hoping that Singapore will play a bigger role in its development story as it strives to become an upper middle-income country by 2030.

Its Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Minister Dionisio da Costa Babo Soares said on Monday (July 8) in his first official visit to the Republic that Timor Leste needs to attract more investments in key potential industries such as tourism, energy and agriculture.

He said the country is already laying the groundwork to allow investments to flow into Timor Leste, which gained independence in 2002 and has a young population of 1.3 million.

According to the World Bank, Middle Income Countries have a per capita gross national income (GNI) of US$1,006 to $12,235 (S$1,369 to S$16,655).

Timor Leste is listed as a lower middle-income nation, with a GNI of between $1,006 and $3,995.

In his speech at the Timor-Leste-Singapore Business Forum held at the Shangri La Hotel, Dr Soares said his country has submitted its application be a member of Asean.

"We are a country that belongs to this region," he added.

The country's former president Jose Ramos-Horta is attending the forum as well. Dr Ramos-Horta was a co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in helping to resolve the conflict in Timor Leste, which was annexed by Indonesia in 1975.

The country is currently reliant on government spending in the short term and revenues from natural resources, the World Bank states on its website.

But political and economic uncertainty have pushed Timor Leste's gross domestic product (GDP) down for a second consecutive year, the country's economic report in May showed.

Still, the World Bank noted that GDP is expected to grow 3.9 per cent this year, with the state Budget approved in February.

It will see the country increase public spending, which includes US$366.4 million on infrastructure.

Singapore non-resident ambassador to Timor Leste Roland Ng said that the two countries share similarities.

"We are both small island-states that recognise the importance of remaining opening and plugged in to the global network," he said, adding that Singapore stands ready to help Timor Leste build its civil service and economy.

Mr Ng added that Dr Soares' two-day visit to Singapore, as part of his introductory visits to the region, underscores the close relationship between the two states.

About 700 Timor-Leste officials have participated in courses here such as in economic development, public administration and civil aviation as part of a Singapore government programme, he noted.

Mr Ng urged Timor Leste to use Singapore's status as a regional hub to further grow its economy.

He added that Asean is also studying Timor Leste's application to be a member.

Dr Soares will call on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Tuesday.