Laos' leaders have ambitious plans for their country, and Singapore hopes to be part of Laos' growth story, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
Speaking at a dinner at the Istana for Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Mr Lee noted that Laos is one of the region's fastest-growing economies, with growth averaging 8 per cent over the past decade.
Singapore companies recognise its potential and have invested in its real estate, energy, telecommunications and agriculture sectors.
Dr Thongloun, who was here on a one-day visit, has set a 2030 target for Laos to reach upper middle- income status, as the country transforms from a "land-locked" nation to a "land-linked" one through infrastructure projects.
Singapore companies have expertise in logistics, aviation, urban planning, healthcare and education, and these can complement Laos' development priorities, Mr Lee said.
"Singapore can be Laos' gateway to the world," he added.
TRANSPORT LINKS CAN SPUR GROWTH
Improved connectivity will not only spur tourism, but also create greater investment and business opportunities for Laos.
PM LEE, on the Kunming-Vientiane railway, which will eventually link the Laotian capital to Singapore, through Thailand and Malaysia.
SilkAir flies to Laos thrice a week, and the Kunming-Vientiane railway, slated to be ready in 2021, will link Laos' capital to Singapore through Thailand and Malaysia.
"Improved connectivity will not only spur tourism, but also create greater investment and business opportunities for Laos," said Mr Lee.
Dr Thongloun, in his speech, said Laos considers Singapore not only a friend and Asean family member, but also "a model of contemporary development that all developing countries should try to emulate".
Yesterday, he received a ceremonial welcome and called on President Tony Tan Keng Yam. Both leaders discussed the growing economic and people-to-people ties.
Dr Thongloun also met PM Lee. They agreed on the importance of enhancing air connectivity to support growing business and tourism links, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
Dr Thongloun also spoke at a lunch hosted by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) and IE Singapore.
"Laos has abundant natural resources, and the agricultural sector has potential for economic development," he said. Laos also has great potential for hydropower development, and wants to promote renewable energy such as solar and wind.
The SCCCI also signed an agreement with the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry. SCCCI president Roland Ng said the pact helps Singapore firms link up with potential partners to explore opportunities. SCCCI will lead its first delegation of 40 Singapore companies to Cambodia and Laos later this month.
Dr Thongloun, who was accompanied by executives from 24 Laotian companies, added: "Connectivity for Laos is very important. We try to turn our land-locked country to become a land-linked country."
Vietnam and Laos have agreed to collaborate, allowing Laos access to the port in Ha Tinh province, and are discussing a highway from Hanoi to Vientiane, he added.
Temasek Foundation International and ITE Education Services also announced a capability development programme for 60 hospitality trainers from Laos, which will start in December this year.
Last night, PM Lee also paid tribute to "good and steady" ties, aided by people-to-people and development links. More than 12,500 Laos citizens have participated in the Singapore Cooperation Programme, among them Dr Thongloun.
Mr Lee thanked his counterpart for giving personal attention to the Singaporeans involved in community projects around Laos. He cited how Dr Thongloun in March received a group of Singapore student volunteers who were helping to build village and school facilities.
"You left a deep impression on these students," he said. "These exchanges, and community projects create lasting memories, friendships and goodwill between our two peoples, and strengthen the basis of our bilateral relations."