A senior Singapore minister has expressed hope that outstanding issues with India can be overcome by other countries to get the large South Asian market into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
“We hope that India and the 15 other countries can overcome the outstanding issues so that India can come on board eventually. We look forward to the region, including India, moving ahead together as one,” Singapore’s Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, said on Saturday (November 16).
During the recent ASEAN meeting in Bangkok, India backed out of signing the multi-lateral free trade agreement RCEP, while 15 countries — China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and ASEAN members — agreed to ink the pact.
India remains concerned that the China-dominated RCEP would be disadvantageous to its farmers and MSMEs.
Addressing the fourth edition of the South Asian Diaspora Convention, Teo elaborated on India and ASEAN trade pacts, pointing out, “We already have the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA), which came into effect in 2010. But there is more potential.”
Teo added that India and Singapore are also exploring linking “our national single window platforms to facilitate cross-border exchange of trade information digitally.” He cited the example of India’s RuPay and Singapore’s NETS, a tie-up launched last year to facilitate cross-border payments.
Among other cooperation between the two countries, Teo noted that Singapore’s Sembcorp Marine Rigs and Floaters having recently collaborated with Shapoorji Pallonji of India and Malaysia’s Bumi Armada, converted a very large crude carrier (VLCC) into a floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) unit.
To be deployed on the east coast of India, the project will produce up to 90,000 barrels of oil per day and help meet India’s significant energy needs.
While these examples were listed for furthering South Asian-Singapore ties, Teo called for further strengthening of connectivity. “One key area is infrastructure, which provides the sinews for development and growth — power, water, sanitation, telecommunications, roads, railways, ports and airports,” he said.
“Given the high cost of infrastructure projects, it is often not possible for South Asian governments to finance these projects on their own. Governments could access capital from the private sector and multilateral institutions to plug the gap.”
He offered Singapore’s Infrastructure Asia, an open platform to better connect the demand and supply side for infrastructure projects in the continent. “We welcome South Asian countries and the diaspora to tap on Infrastructure Asia, to connect with best-in class partners with the right resources and expertise to collaborate on infrastructure projects in South Asia,” he said.
Another initiative that Infrastructure Asia will be working on is a capacity building programme with the World Bank to strengthen capabilities of infrastructure project structuring, financing and implementation, to better attract international financing and innovation into the sector, he told the convention.