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Visa-free travel for Singapore, Myanmar citizens from Dec 1

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The tens of thousands of Singaporeans and Myanmar nationals who travel to and from each other's countries every year will no longer need a visa for their trips starting December 1.

Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar

THE tens of thousands of Singaporeans and Myanmar nationals who travel to and from each other's countries every year will no longer need a visa for their trips starting December 1.

This exemption applies to all citizens who hold ordinary passports and will be for stays of up to 30 days, subject to prevailing entry requirements.

News of the visa waiver broke on Tuesday after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - in Myanmar for a three-day official visit - met the country's top two leaders, President Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor and Foreign Affairs Minister Aung San Suu Kyi.

At the presidential palace in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, Mr Lee and Ms Suu Kyi witnessed the exchange of diplomatic notes on the visa exemption agreement.

Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who is part of Mr Lee's delegation, hailed the move as one more step towards seamless Asean connectivity.

He said: "This will strengthen our people-to-people ties and make doing business with each other even easier."

From 2011 to 2015, the annual visitor arrivals from Myanmar to Singapore increased by 12 per cent to 105,452. Last year, each of them spent an average of S$2,811 per trip.

On the flip side, there were 45,125 visitor arrivals from Singapore to Myanmar in 2015, according to data from Myanmar's Ministry of Hotel and Tourism.

The number of weekly flights between Singapore and Myanmar's two biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, has gone up to 49 today, from 44 in January.

At a dinner hosted in his honour, Mr Lee said he was pleased with the lifting of the visa requirements as this would make it easier for people from both sides to visit. He also hoped that the two countries could work towards increasing the number of flights and connectivity links.

Mr Lee, the first foreign head of government to visit Myanmar since the new government took over in March, received a red-carpet ceremonial welcome at the palace before he began his meetings.

According to his press secretary, he congratulated both Mr Htin Kyaw and Ms Suu Kyi on their successful elections last November.

Singapore and Myanmar are celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations this year, and the leaders noted the strong ties as they updated each other on the various commemorative events being planned during this golden jubilee.

They discussed ways to strengthen economic ties through updating the Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement and working towards the start of talks on a new bilateral investment treaty.

Last year, Myanmar moved up one place to become Singapore's 28th-largest trading partner. Bilateral trade amounted to S$3.5 billion, a 9.6 per cent increase from 2014.

Singapore was Myanmar's third-largest trading partner, after China and Thailand, in 2015. As of April this year, Singapore became the second-largest investor in Myanmar after China, with a cumulative investment amount of US$13.06 billion.

Mr Lee reiterated Singapore's continued support for Myanmar's development, such as by sharing its experience in different fields.

Myanmar officials have been invited to Singapore for more discussions on education policy and the development of hawker centres in Myanmar.

Mr Lee also updated Ms Suu Kyi on the progress of the new Singapore-Myanmar Vocational Training Institute in Yangon, which has already produced its first batch of graduates. Singapore will sponsor the top students for short-term internship programmes in Singapore.

Mr Lee, who will fly to Yangon on Wednesday for the second leg of his trip, will officially launch the institute as part of his programme while in that city.