President’s Speech at UAE Singapore Business and Investment Forum
His Excellency Sultan Bin Said Al-Mansoor, Minister for Economy UAE, Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to first express my thanks to the Singapore Business Federation, the UAE Ministry of Economy and the UAE Embassy in Singapore for giving me the opportunity to share with you this important milestone in UAESingapore business relations with the setting up of the UAE-Singapore Business Council.
I think it is important for me to first provide a context in which the council is being formed.
Strong Trade and Investment Linkages
Singapore is the largest trading partner of the UAE in ASEAN. Conversely, UAE is the largest trading partner of Singapore in the GCC. Bilateral trade in 2016 amounted to US$ 11 billion. Investment flows between the two countries have also been significant.
In 2008, Singapore signed an FTA with the GCC, which was implemented in 2013. Singapore is the first country to conclude such an FTA with the GCC. The Singapore-UAE Joint Committee and the Abu Dhabi-Singapore Business Forum have respectively been established to catalyze trade and investment flows and strengthen bilateral connectivity between the two countries.
UAE Corporate Presence in Singapore
Some of the leading UAE companies are present in Singapore. They capitalize on the country’s role as a regional business hub for the SouthEast Asian and Asia Pacific Regions. Furthermore, Singapore’s status as a AAA rated country by Standard and Poor, Moody’s and Fitch give it an excellent reputation for strong governance, economic management, first class infrastructure, advance financial sector and globalized communication channels. The political stability and strong oversight by regulatory authorities, coupled with various incentives offered by the government for regional hub status are strong pull factors for UAE companies to establish a base in Singapore. Some of the major UAE companies present in the country include Global Foundries, ADNOC, ENOC, Borouge, Al-Futtaim, DNATA, Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways, Sharaf Group, CEPSA, GEMS, Horizon Terminals and RAK Ceramics.
Singapore’s reputation as a leading international financial center has also attracted UAE financial institutions to establish a regional branch in the country, covering the Asia Pacific region. First Abu Dhabi Bank and Emirates NBD have wholesale branch licenses actively involved in financing UAE and regional corporates and trade and investment flows between UAE and the region. Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank has also recently established a regional representative office in Singapore.
Singapore Corporate Presence in UAE
Some of Singapore’s major companies have also invested and established operations in the UAE. They leverage the UAE’s diversified economic composition, strong and business-friendly government and the country’s strategic positioning as the regional hub covering GCC, MENA, East Africa and Central Asia. Some of the Singapore companies in the UAE include Capitaland, Ascott, Sembawang Group, ST Group, Surbana Jurong, DP Architects, RSP Architects, Indoguna, Meinhart, Boustead Projects, and GIS Schools. A large number of trading companies from Singapore have established regional trading operations in Jebel-Ali Free Zone, DAFZA and other free zones in UAE. Financial institutions such as Bank of Singapore and DBS Bank are active in DIFC. Bank of Singapore has recently expanded their operations significantly, focusing on the lucrative market for wealth management.
UAE Singapore Business Council (USBC)
The establishment of UAE Singapore Business Council (USBC) was mooted in a presentation I had undertaken in June 2014 at a seminar to commemorate the launch and signing of the GCC-Singapore FTA. This idea was also mentioned last year in a joint communique issued by the Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Dr V Balakrishnan and the UAE Minister for Cabinet Affairs and the Future, Mr Muhammad AlGergawi.
The UAE-Singapore Business Council is being currently is registered with the registrar of societies. Before the registration process, several rounds of meetings were initiated with the UAE ambassador, His Excellency Dr Muhammed Omar Bin Balfaqueeth, Embassy officials and leading UAE companies in Singapore and Singapore companies active in the UAE. The Singapore Business Federation, IE Singapore, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and key individuals were also kept in the loop. A common consensus emerged that there was indeed a strong case for the establishment of such a council as there were sufficient UAE companies and Singapore companies to form a critical mass of membership, so as to make such a council successful and relevant.
The primary aim of the council is to provide a platform for member companies and individuals to connect amongst themselves, with the UAE embassy, relevant business bodies both in UAE and Singapore, that will also serve to catalyze greater trade and investment flows between the two countries. It is also the intention to capitalize on the important role that the UAE and Singapore can play as regional nodes in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, with particular reference to the Maritime Road. Singapore is an established hub for ASEAN and Asia Pacific Region, with strong links to the Indian sub-continent. Whilst on the other hand, the UAE is the established hub for the Middle East, East Africa and Central Asia. Hence there are certainly opportunities for these two pivotal nodes to collaborate in the Belt and Road Initiative.
A strong pro-tem committee has been formed that include leading UAE and Singapore companies such as Global Foundries, First Abu Dhabi Bank, Dnata, Borouge, Al-Futtaime Group, ADNOC, ENOC, Emirates NBD and ST Group, Surbana Jurong, DP Architects, Meinhart and others. At least 10 members of the executive committee have spontaneously agreed to be sponsor members which would provide seed capital for the council. Wong Partnership, a leading Singapore legal firm and the only one with an office in the UAE, acted as Honorary Legal Advisor and helped draft the constitution. Ex officios will sit in the executive committee representing the UAE Embassy, the Singapore Business Federation and UAE Federated Chamber of Commerce. Indeed, it is intended that SBF and the UAE Federated Chamber of Commerce will be strategic partners with the Council to promote greater business connectivity between the two countries.
The Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce has kindly permitted the council to use their impressive offices at Suntec City as a location for the secretariat which is much appreciated. The council will organize various activities such as regular business talks, networking sessions with other chambers, and in conjunction with the SBF a flagship annual seminar and a yearly business delegation to the UAE.
We would not have been able to achieve this stage without the active support and guidance of our patron, the UAE Ambassador, His Excellency, Dr Muhammed Omar, to whom I am personally very grateful. His strong encouragement, involvement and commitment has made this council a reality. Council is also fortunate to have as a joint patron, Mr Lee Yi Shyan, who was the former Senior Minister of State, having held several portfolios including Trade and Industry, National Development and Manpower. He established strong relationships with the Middle East while he was in Government, having co-chaired UAE-Singapore Joint Forum and played a pivotal role in the signing of the GCC Singapore FTA. He currently is a member of Parliament for Bedok GRC, Chairman of the SingaporeChina Business Council amongst his various portfolios and responsibilities.
For the above reason, I’m sure that you will agree that we will be launching UAE Singapore Business Council on a strong footing. Indeed, we hope that you will be able to work with us in some form or the other to achieve our primary goal of enhancing the existing business linkages between United Arab Emirates and the Republic of Singapore.