MEXICO CITY • Singapore's reputation for competence and integrity is a valuable resource that has currency even across the Pacific Ocean, and is a competitive advantage in a world of growing protectionism and uncertainty, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.
Such goodwill is worth developing, and is why the Republic is pursuing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Pacific Alliance countries of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, PM Lee told reporters at the conclusion of his four-day visit to Mexico.
While Singapore has existing trade agreements with Chile, Mexico and Peru, the Pacific Alliance-Singapore free trade agreement that could be concluded this year will pay a dividend in building links with Colombia, said Mr Lee.
More than two-thirds of the FTA text has been resolved, and Singapore is optimistic that the next round of negotiations slated to take place in Mexico in a few weeks will conclude the process.
"We will have to see how it's negotiated, but usually when you bring more parties together, there are opportunities for joint gains," PM Lee said.
Besides business interests, Mexico wants to collaborate with Singapore in areas such as logistics, urban planning and digital governance because Singapore is viewed as a reliable partner with a good reputation for delivering on what it sets out to do, he said.
Earlier in the day, PM Lee was hosted to lunch by Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard, together with a group of governors from the states of Queretaro, Durango, Guanajuato, Oaxaca and San Luis Potosi.
PM Lee registered Singapore's interest to expand cooperation with the Mexican states and welcomed the growing cooperation in the areas of infrastructure, education and master-planning, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.
"(The governors) all want to bring in investments to develop their states, to link up with Asia, so I think there are opportunities for us to develop here in Mexico and the Pacific Alliance countries, (among which) there's a certain realisation of the need to work together and to look across the Pacific to Asia," he said.
In a ceremony in the afternoon, PM Lee was also presented with the Distinguished Guest of the City and Mayor Medal by Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum. He invited Dr Sheinbaum to visit Singapore to attend the World Cities Summit Mayors Forum next year.
PM Lee said Mexico and Singapore's similar beginnings as trade hubs that drew immigrants seeking a better life are why the two countries are today cosmopolitan cities with rich cultures.
"Mexico City's renowned street food culture exemplifies this - your delicious tacos, quesadillas, tamales, empanadas and nachos bear influences from all over the world, including from Europe, Asia and Africa, and have travelled all over the world, carrying Mexican influence and soft power," he said.
Singapore hopes to inscribe its hawker food in Unesco's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the way Mexico did for its traditional cuisine in 2010, he added.
"As you can see, we may be on opposite sides of the globe, separated by the vast Pacific Ocean, but we are actually quite similar in our outlooks," he said. "There are many areas we can cooperate on, and learn from each other."