LUANG PRABANG, Laos (The Straits Times/ ANN) - Many opportunities for businesses beckon, says President Tan at the end of state visits.
There are many opportunities for Singapore companies in Cambodia and Laos, and leaders of both countries have encouraged Singapore to increase trade and investments, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said.
Urging Singapore businesses to venture into these markets, he said: "Businessmen who come here have to be prepared to take a long-term view and put in the hard work now before the situation is settled."
He was speaking to Singapore reporters in an interview at the end of state visits to Cambodia and Laos.
Both Asean members are old friends of Singapore and their development priorities are opportunities for Singapore companies, Dr Tan said. Their economies have also been growing at a rapid 7 per cent a year in recent years.
He said: "We have a very strong brand here and we should take advantage of that. The main areas of interest in Cambodia and Laos also fit in very well with our expertise."
Both countries are keen to develop the tourism sector, where Singapore can lend its experience.
Over the past week, Dr Tan met his counterparts and leaders in Phnom Penh and Vientiane, and visited the heritage-rich tourist destinations of Siem Reap, the gateway to the Angkor Wat temple complex, and Luang Prabang, Laos' former royal capital.
Recalling his last trip to Siem Reap two decades ago, he said he found the town transformed on this visit - bustling, with first-class hotels. "It shows how much one industry can do for a country," he said.
More can be done, Dr Tan added.
Singapore can work with both countries on the human resource aspect of tourism, such as in training hotel and service staff, he noted. "We have Shatec (hotel and tourism educator), and the ambassador here is working with the Lao government here to see whether we can start something here," he said.
Singapore is already involved in human resource development in both countries, which are among the top recipients of technical assistance under the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP).
The SCP counts Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, who was in Singapore for a three-month English language course in the late 1990s, among its alumni.
Thongloun shared his SCP experience with Dr Tan when he hosted the President to lunch this week.
"It's a small investment for us, time for him, but it pays off dividends in the long run and this lasts a lifetime. This gives an example that we don't need a lot of resources and money, but target areas where they are in need," said Dr Tan.
More than 12,800 Cambodian and over 12,300 Lao officials have attended SCP courses since 1992.
Other areas Singapore companies can look at include healthcare, logistics, real estate and food processing, Dr Tan said, noting that some companies are thinking of transferring their food processing facilities to Cambodia or Laos to be closer to food sources.
He added that recent enhancements in air connectivity as well as bilateral agreements on avoidance of double taxation between Singapore and both countries, will support companies to explore these business opportunities.
He also hoped his visits have opened more doors for Singapore companies amid uncertain global economic conditions.
Fortunately, Asean remains a bright spot. "Singapore is fortunate to be located in South-east Asia," Dr Tan said. "Asean - with its population of 600 million, with the Asean Economic Community - will be a major growth engine for the world. And Singapore is well-placed to take advantage of that fact."
Asean celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and Singapore will assume chairmanship of the regional grouping next year. Dr Tan's latest visits mean he has visited all nine other Asean members as President.
Asean is one of the most successful groupings of countries in the world and is working towards greater integration, he noted, adding: "The world ahead is uncertain but with the goodwill generated between our governments and our leaders, I am sure we will continue on this progressive path."
Cambodia and Laos are at a different level of development, but are committed to the Asean Economic Community, and Asean integration will benefit all members, he added.
Singapore, as a small country, must continue to reach out to its region and beyond, he said.
"We are a price-taker, not a price-maker, so to make our way in the world, we have to make ourselves relevant to Asean, to Asia, and the rest of the world," he said. "In that way, we can make an impact which is disproportionate to our small size and population."