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RUSSIA-SINGAPORE INTER-GOVERNMENTAL COMMISSION

Singapore-Russia ties are strong and can grow further: Tharman

Russia was Singapore's 21st-largest trading partner in 2015, with bilateral trade reaching S$7.66 billion

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Mr Tharman (second from right) with Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov (second from left). At extreme left is Elena Borisenko, the first vice-president of Gazprombank.

Singapore

THE fact that Singapore continues to have a flourishing relationship with Russia on many levels is a plus point in the current dull global environment, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Friday.

"We feel Russia is an opportunity for the future, just like it has been for the last five years. This relationship can grow and both countries can benefit," he told an audience of 200 business and government leaders at the Russia-Singapore Business Forum (RSBF).

The event, organised by trade-promotion agency International Enterprise (IE) Singapore at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, was also attended by Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.

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Mr Tharman and Mr Shuvalov are the co-chairs of the High-level Russia-Singapore Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC), which held its seventh session in Singapore before the forum.

According to latest figures, Singapore's bilateral trade with Russia grew at a compound annual growth rate of 10.36 per cent from 2011 to 2015.

Last year, Russia was Singapore's 21st-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching S$7.66 billion.

During the lively dialogue chaired by Insead dean Ilian Mihov, Mr Tharman noted that the growth of Singapore's economic relationship with Russia is faster than that with most other regions in the world.

"Even with our different international environments, we've significantly grown our relationship. When there are opportunities, we should take them and make the most of them. Don't wait for the world to improve," he said.

To boost trade and investments, Mr Tharman spoke of the plan to sign the free-trade agreement (FTA) with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and ratify it in 2018 - the year Singapore and Russia will mark 50 years of diplomatic relations.

The EAEU comprises five countries: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. Collectively, they have a market of 180 million people and total GDP of US$4.4 trillion in purchasing power parity terms.

Singapore and the EAEU aim to complete a joint feasibility study on the proposed FTA by May 2017. The FTA is seen as a pathfinder for an eventual free trade pact between the EAEU and Asean.

Mr Tharman said: "The EAEU offers significant prospects in this uncertain world. (The FTA) is an example of how we've got to be nifty and seize opportunities in the world."

Mr Shuvalov, meanwhile, stressed that the door is wide open for Singapore companies to invest in Russia, a country moving up the rankings in terms of the ease of doing business.

"When sanctions were imposed on Russia in 2014, many thought that it would concentrate power centrally. On the contrary, President Vladimir Putin made it freer for entrepreneurs to do business in Russia," he said.

Also speaking at the RSBF was IE Singapore chief executive officer Lee Ark Boon, who urged Russian and Singapore companies to stay committed and resilient amid the global economic slowdown.

There are 650 Russian companies operating in Singapore, and the number is growing, he noted.

Those already present here include Gazprom (natural gas) and Lukoil (oil).

Mr Lee called on firms from both sides to continue to find common business interests and competencies to grow together.

He said: "In particular, the outlook for Asean is promising, and Singapore can be Russia's partner to tap opportunities in the region."

During the IGC meeting, Mr Tharman and Mr Shuvalov welcomed the entry into force of the protocol for the Singapore-Russia Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, as well as the re-establishment of the Russian Trade Office in Singapore by early 2017.

The two leaders also agreed to explore collaboration to support technology-focused incubators and start-ups. Singapore's Action Committee for Entrepreneurship will work with Russia's Skolkovo Innovation Hub on this, and details of the partnership will be finalised soon.

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