SINGAPORE - Singapore and the Maldives inked two agreements on Monday (July 1) to expand air connectivity and further strengthen bilateral cooperation.
With the Open Skies Agreement, the airlines of Singapore and the Maldives will be able to operate as many passenger flights or cargo services as they want between and beyond both countries.
A separate Memorandum of Understanding was also signed between the countries' foreign ministries to step up bilateral exchanges and cooperation.
The signings at the Istana were witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who is on his first official visit to Singapore.
President Halimah Yacob, who hosted Mr Solih to a state lunch, said that since diplomatic ties were established in 1975, the links between the two countries and its peoples have been growing steadily.
The Open Skies Agreement will bring the peoples and businesses even closer together, Madam Halimah noted. "Air connectivity is a crucial lifeline for our economies. It supports tourism and connects people and services," she said.
She noted that Singapore Airlines was one of the first airlines to start direct flights to and from the Maldives in 1984, and this supports the active presence of Singapore companies such as Banyan Tree and Hotel Properties in the Maldives, and the thousands of Maldivian visitors to Singapore every year.
Currently, Singapore carriers operate a total of 20 weekly services to Male, the capital of the Maldives.
Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min, who signed the air pact with Maldives' Foreign Affairs Minister Abdulla Shahid, also said it "underscores the strong bilateral ties between Singapore and Maldives, and will enable greater movement of people and goods between the two countries to benefit both our economies".
Meanwhile, Madam Halimah said that both countries have worked well together in the international arena and share many common interests as small island nations.
"Singapore and the Maldives are both located at the centre of the world's busiest maritime trade routes, and are highly susceptible to global strategic, economic and environmental forces," she said.
Madam Halimah noted that the agreement signed between the countries' foreign ministries will further strengthen cooperation not only bilaterally, but also at international fora. It was inked between Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman and Mr Shahid.
In her speech, Madam Halimah expressed Singapore's appreciation for the Maldives' support and cooperation at the United Nations and other multilateral platforms, along with the Maldives' leadership as chair of the Alliance of Small Island States from 2015 to 2018.
Madam Halimah also said that Singapore is happy to continue sharing its developmental experiences, and announced that the Republic will offer a two-year technical cooperation package in governance and sustainable development for the Maldives.
To date, more than 1,300 Maldivian officials have participated in the Singapore Cooperation Programme, which provides courses and training for officials from other nations. Singapore has also hosted customised study visits for the Maldives in areas including education, finance, law and port management.
Concluding her remarks, Madam Halimah wished Mr Solih and the country well, as his government undertakes various reforms.
"I am confident that your government will be able to bring significant improvement to the lives of Maldivians across the islands and atolls. Singapore remains committed to supporting the Maldives' growth and development," she said.
Mr Solih, who was accompanied by his wife, First Lady Fazna Ahmed, and other Maldivian ministers and officials, was given a welcome ceremony at the Istana. The Maldivian president, who is on a one-day state visit, also met PM Lee and Madam Halimah.
Prior to that, Mr Solih and Madam Fazna visited the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where an orchid was named in their honour.
They will also visit Semakau Landfill on Monday afternoon to learn about Singapore's experience in waste management.