Mexico, Singapore can be pathfinders of trade and commerce: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressing the Mexican Senate on Wednesday. He is the first foreign head of government to do so since Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came to office last December. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
PM Lee addressing the Mexican Senate on Wednesday. He is the first foreign head of government to do so since Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came to office last December. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Being strategically located, both nations are gateways to their respective regions, he says

The strategic location of Singapore, near the centre of Asia, and Mexico, near the centre of the Americas, means that the two countries are gateways to their respective regions, and is why both should be "pathfinders of trade and commerce", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

This key similarity is why differences in language, culture, size and geography have not prevented Singapore and Mexico from stepping up exchanges in recent years, PM Lee said in an address to the Mexican Senate on Wednesday as part of his official visit here.

And in a globalised world where countries cooperate extensively with one another, a more integrated Asia-Pacific is in everyone's interest, he added.

PM Lee noted that Singapore and Mexico's similar histories as former colonies and centres of trade have resulted in compatible world views, and a natural instinct to be outward-looking and to connect with others in the world.

Historically, Mexico was also the catalyst for trade between Asia and the Americas, he said.

Spanish explorer Andres de Urdaneta's successful voyage from Manila in the Philippines to the port of Acapulco on the Pacific Coast of Mexico in 1565 opened up "Urdaneta's route", the world's first transoceanic shipping route.

"Manila Galleons would carry porcelain, silk, cotton, dyestuffs, spices and other goods from Asia to the Americas, and return to Asia with polished Mexican silver," said PM Lee. "This was a highly profitable venture: Fortunes were made on both sides of the Pacific, and one could argue that that was the first era of globalisation."

Trade today is no longer a seasonal endeavour but a round-the-clock one, with large container vessels having replaced the Manila Galleons, and transactions crossing land and sea instantaneously over optical fibre cables, PM Lee noted.

Significant growth in transPacific trade means the Americas are today a very important part of Asia's economic universe, and Singapore has substantial trade not only with the United States but also with Mexico and other North and South American countries, he said.


There are also many trading and investment opportunities in Asia waiting to be developed by Mexican businesses.

"A more integrated Asia-Pacific, with strong links between the two sides of the Pacific Ocean, gives countries an interest in each other's economic success," added PM Lee. "This fosters peace and prosperity, and benefits all countries."

PM Lee also said he was glad that both Mexico and Singapore are founding members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a trade deal that covers 13.5 per cent of the global economy and a market of 495 million people.

The trade deal took effect for Singapore, Mexico and some other signatories on Dec 30 last year.

"It signals to our companies that our governments encourage and support their ventures in each other's countries," said PM Lee, who noted that Singapore investments in Mexico have increased every year in the past five years, exceeding $1.5 billion in 2017.

"I am confident that with the CPTPP in effect, our economic ties can only grow further."

While Singapore's engagement with Latin America and Mexico is robust, there is much more potential to be developed, said PM Lee, who is the first foreign head of government to address the Mexican Senate since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came to office last December.

PM Lee's four-day visit to Mexico started on Sunday.

"In foreign relations, countries cannot choose our neighbours, but we can certainly choose our friends and partners, however far away they may be," he said.

"And I am happy that despite our geographical separation, Singapore and Mexico have chosen to be friends and partners with each other."

Senate president Monica Fernandez Balboa, who introduced PM Lee to the chambers, said Mexico is in favour of a comprehensive bilateral agenda that promotes greater business ties between the two nations, as well as the fostering of greater integration between countries on both sides of the Pacific.


"We express our deep will to continue collaborating with your country in order to build a more humane world that is attentive to social causes, solidarity, inclusion and justice," she added. "Mexico and Singapore both have a solid foundation and potential for this."

Senator Ricardo Monreal Avila, president of the Political Board of the Senate, said in a tweet that during his meeting with PM Lee, the two countries reaffirmed the strengthening of cooperation in areas such as economic and parliamentary ties.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2019, with the headline 'Mexico, S'pore can be pathfinders of trade and commerce: PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe