SINGAPORE - Ties between Armenia and Singapore go back 200 years to when the British founded modern Singapore, with Armenians among the first migrants to the new free port, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (July 8).
Although their numbers were not large, the Armenian community has made a significant impact here, PM Lee added. He was speaking at a lunch hosted in honour of his Armenian counterpart Nikol Pashinyan, who is here on a three-day official visit.
"Signs of Armenian influence can still be found all over Singapore," PM Lee said. "As a former journalist who founded his own newspaper, PM Pashinyan would be pleased to know that Singapore's main broadsheet, The Straits Times, was co-founded in 1845 by an Armenian, Catchick Moses."
Several streets also bear the names of prominent Armenians who settled here, while the country's national flower - the Vanda Miss Joaquim - was bred by Singapore-born Armenian resident Agnes Joaquim.
Speaking in Armenian, Mr Pashinyan warmly expressed his appreciation of how the Armenian heritage has been "remembered and protected with the utmost care" in Singapore.
"No doubt, today we are proud to witness the valuable mark our small but enterprising community has left in one of the most wonderful places of the world," he said.
He added that he hopes to usher in a "new opening" of relations between both countries, especially to boost the growth of bilateral trade and investment.
"Rule of law has been strengthened, and a level playing field has been set for all economic players, in particular for the foreign investors," he said, adding that Armenia has overcome many problems faced by countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.
"Corruption has decreased sharply and is not considered a factor threatening economic activity anymore."
Armenia and Singapore are alike in that they advocate multilateralism and free trade at a time when many are turning against these principles, PM Lee said.
He noted that Singapore is negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which Armenia is chairing this year.
"The FTA will catalyse more business and stronger economic relations between our regions," Mr Lee said, adding that he appreciates Armenia's strong support for the agreement. "I am heartened by the substantial progress made and hope that we will be able to conclude the FTA, especially the goods chapter, soon."
On Monday, both countries signed five agreements to cooperate in areas such as tourism, taxation, arts and culture, vocational training and plant exchange.
Armenia is one of five member states of the EAEU, which also comprises Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. The economic bloc represents a market of more than 180 million people with a combined gross domestic product of US $1.8 trillion (S$2.5 trillion).
Mr Pashinyan arrived in Singapore on Sunday and received an official welcome at the Istana on Monday morning. Apart from calling on PM Lee, he also paid a courtesy call on President Halimah Yacob.
On Monday afternoon, he and his delegation met business leaders at a round-table session organised by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF). Companies at the session, which was also attended by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon, came from a wide range of industries including manufacturing, technology and agri-commodities.
"For many of us present today, Eurasia is an emerging region that some Singapore businesses have begun exploring for opportunities,"said Mr Ho Meng Kit, who is SBF's chief executive. "Today's round-table serves as a useful platform for us to better understand the developments and investment opportunities in Armenia, as well as exchange insights and forge closer economic cooperation between our two countries."
Last year, the total trade between Singapore and Armenia, which has a population of around three million, stood at $2.8 million. The country has a long tradition of being entrepreneurial and creative, with Armenians behind the invention of the colour television and automated teller machine.
Mr Pashinyan will also visit the Economic Development Board and Botanic Gardens, where an orchid will be named in his honour. He will call on Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin too.
The Armenian Prime Minister is accompanied by his wife, Madam Anna Hakobyan, as well as the Minister of Economy Tigran Khachatryan, Minister of High-Technological Industry Hakob Arshakyan, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Avet Adonts and senior government officials.