PRAGUE - Both Poland and the Czech Republic have fast-growing economies and vibrant societies, and Singapore companies should capitalise on the opportunities in the two nations, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Saturday (May 27).
The two Central European nations hold promise, thanks to their central and strategic location in Europe, strong industrial base, and highly skilled workforce.
But many Singaporeans are unaware of the opportunities available, and both countries have also been primarily focused on their traditional markets in Europe, he told Singapore reporters as he wrapped state visits to both countries.He added that bilateral ties are growing, and there is mutual interest to strengthen economic cooperation.
"There are opportunities for Singapore in both countries, as well as for them in our region," he told Singapore reporters at the end of his seven-day trip.
Poland has had uninterrupted growth since the 1990s, with a large market of 38 million people and the Czech Republic, while not as large as Poland with 10 million people, is a good manufacturing base given its strong research and development capabilities, he said.
While both countries currently conduct about 80 per cent of their trade with European nations, they are serious about diversifying their trade to China and South-east Asia, he added.
Dr Tan, who was accompanied by a business delegation of 15 companies, urged Singaporean businesses to take advantage of this, and look beyond familiar western European nations like the United Kingdom and Germany.
He acknowledged that entering a new market may take more time than usual, but said "there is no substitute for doing the legwork, coming here and talking to people, finding your opportunities".
Dr Tan was in Poland for three days and the Czech Republic for four days.
With these latest state visits, he completes his tour of the Visegrad Four - the four key economies in Central and Eastern Europe. He had visited the other nations, Hungary and the Slovak Republic, in 2013.
During his trip this time round, he presided over the signing of six agreements, which he said will pave the way for further cooperation in business and research.
He also met Polish President Andrzej Duda and Czech President Milos Zeman, with whom he discussed the early ratification of the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.
The landmark deal - the first between the EU and an Asean nation - had recently hit a snag after a binding ruling mandating that such trade deals must be ratified by all 28 member and sub-regional governments.
"This is not an easy agreement to negotiate and progress will be slow, but we're making progress step-by-step," he said.
Dr Tan also said he was impressed by the beauty and history of the cities he visited, like Warsaw in Poland and the medieval town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic, as well as the countries' cuisines.
"Perhaps we may one day have some Singaporean cuisine, like Peranankan food, in Poland and Czech," he quipped, even as he encouraged the Poles and Czechs to visit Singapore.
He said he was struck by how resilient both countries were, having gone through "terrible suffering" during World War II, especially with Warsaw, which was left "almost devastated".
"But they have picked themselves up. They have not only survived but continue to do well. This holds resonance for Singaporeans: we have to continue, despite all the challenges that face us, like changing our economy, terrorism, radicalism. We have to be resilient and overcome all these challenges - we can do it," he said.
Dr Tan arrives home on Sunday (May 28).