Strengthening ties between the European Union (EU) and Singapore is the key to connecting the EU and Asean, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary said yesterday.
Cooperation and collaboration between the two regional organisations are needed to support an "open, fair and rules-based, multilateral world order", he added.
This is necessary even as issues such as climate change and trade tensions between the United States and China make for "uncertain and challenging times".
Dr Janil, who is also Senior Minister of State for Transport, was speaking at a conference organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and Dutch think-tank Clingendael Institute.
Held at the Mandarin Orchard hotel, the conference was the second in a series of four such events to be helmed by the two organisations this year.
Delivering the keynote address at yesterday's event, Dr Janil outlined three areas - physical, digital and people-to-people - where ties between the Republic and the EU could be strengthened.
Regarding the physical aspect, he noted that Asean had a "notable" gap between required infrastructure investment and actual infrastructure spending, which stands at about US$102 billion (S$138 billion), according to data from the Asian Development Bank.
"Addressing this infrastructure gap will lead to increased opportunities for greater investment, trade and employment for all the Asean countries," said Dr Janil.
The Republic, as coordinator for Asean-EU dialogue and a regional trade and transport hub, is well positioned to promote closer cooperation between the two regions, he added.
He noted that the upcoming Asean-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement is also likely to create a more competitive air transport sector, leading to more trade between the regions.
Meanwhile, digital connectivity can be strengthened by the EU supporting initiatives such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation's Cross Border Privacy Rules system, an international standard which aims to facilitate and protect the flow of data across borders.
The human dimension of relations between the two regions cannot be ignored, added Dr Janil.
"On top of (Singapore's) connectivity in the region, our sensitivity to the diversity of cultures and unique mix of talents can serve as a springboard for the people in EU to work and live in Asean," he said.
There are several close research and education collaborations between the EU and Singapore, he added, giving two examples - German applied research institution Fraunhofer, which has a facility at Nanyang Technological University, and Swedish telecoms manufacturer Ericsson, which has partnerships with Singtel and Singapore Polytechnic.
The EU and Singapore have a long history of excellent relations, which need to be "constantly and continually strengthened, reinforced and nurtured", said Dr Janil.
"We hope to find ways for our people to conceptualise, collaborate and co-create new solutions to global and regional challenges."