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SINGAPORE and Thailand want to deepen their economic relations and promote greater business-to-business cooperation in the coming years, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday, following a retreat with his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Speaking during a dinner banquet at the Istana held in Mr Prayut's honour, Mr Lee hailed the strong economic ties between their two nations, with bilateral trade having grown steadily over the last decade to reach about S$30 billion.
Thailand was Singapore's ninth-largest trading partner last year. Singapore is now its second-largest foreign investor and was its top investor from South-east Asia in 2013. Singapore's total investment in Thailand reached S$18.9 billion as at end-2013.
"I hope we will do more and our companies will find fresh opportunities to invest and to work with one another," said Mr Lee, as he welcomed Mr Prayut on his two-day introductory visit to Singapore, a year after the 61-year-old former army chief assumed office following a coup.
At a joint press conference earlier, Mr Prayut said that both Singapore and Thailand had the potential to expand bilateral trade and investment cooperation.
He invited businesses in Singapore's private sector to invest in designated special economic zones along the border areas between Thailand and its neighbouring countries, as well as in various infrastructure projects on transport and logistics in Thailand.
On Friday, he will meet Singapore business leaders over lunch at a forum organised under International Enterprise Singapore's "Global Conversations" initiative, where he will share more about the investment opportunities in his country.
Among the highlights of the first day of his visit was the signing of four bilateral deals, one of which was a revised agreement containing improved terms for an avoidance of double taxation on income earned in one country by a resident of the other.
This double-taxation agreement, inked by Law and Foreign Minister K Shanmugam and Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn, replaces the one signed in 1975.
The two governments also signed an agreement on cruise tourism, with the aim of having more sailings to tap on the growing demand for cruises in the region.
The Singapore Manufacturing Federation and the Federation of Thai Industries, meanwhile, agreed to work together to strengthen business relations and promote economic cooperation between their organisations.
Mr Lee noted that the good ties were not just between the two governments, but their peoples as well. Last year, some 800,000 Singaporeans visited Thailand, and more than 500,000 Thais came to Singapore. Thailand is the 10th largest source market for visitor arrivals into Singapore.
Touching on the political situation in his country, Mr Prayut thanked Mr Lee and the Singapore government for their understanding and confidence in the political and economic stability of Thailand.
During the retreat for the leaders of both countries, Mr Prayut took the chance to update Mr Lee on the progress of Thailand's political reform process as the country looks to hold a general election in 2016.
"The return of Thailand to order and stability will help contribute to the overall stability and security of Asean, as well as to bilateral relations between Thailand and Singapore," said the Thai leader.
Mr Lee remarked that Singapore, as a "close friend" of Thailand's, was happy to see that the Kingdom was stable and making progress.
"(Mr Prayut) briefed me just now on the steps he is taking within Thailand and the steps forward for Thailand in his road map, and we stand by the people of Thailand and we will be happy to see Thailand succeed," said Mr Lee.
Mr Prayut had originally been scheduled to visit Singapore on March 24, but the trip was scrapped following the death of the Republic's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew the day before. Mr Prayut was one of many world leaders who attended the 91-year-old's state funeral later that week.
The Thai leader is expected to make another visit here in two months, for Singapore's Golden Jubilee celebrations on Aug 9.
Thailand was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic links with Singapore back in September 1965, just a month after the Republic's independence.