Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan keen to pursue projects with S’pore: President

The inking of agreements will create more economic opportunities for Singapore companies and open more doors in both markets, she said.

Michelle Ng

Michelle Ng

The Straits Times


President Halimah Yacob (centre) on a tour of Tilla-Kari Madrassah in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on May 25, 2023. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

May 26, 2023

SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan – Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are keen to pursue different projects with Singapore and explore business opportunities with companies, said President Halimah Yacob on Thursday.

The inking of various agreements will create more economic opportunities for Singapore companies to explore and, hopefully, open more doors in both markets, said Madam Halimah at the end of five days of state visits to the two Central Asian countries.

In an interview to wrap up her trip, she said Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev gave her his personal assurance that he would “do his best to remove all the wrinkles for Singapore companies to be able to invest and trade with their private-sector companies”.

Madam Halimah also highlighted the services and investment agreement signed on Monday with Kazakhstan as one important outcome of the visit.

The legally binding agreement will allow Singapore companies seamless access to various service sectors in Kazakhstan, such as specialised medical services, urban planning and engineering.

She noted that Singapore and Kazakhstan are focusing not just on business opportunities, but also on how to expand the tourism sector.

To that end, plans by Astana Air to launch direct flights between both countries are welcome, she said.

“That’s another aspect of ensuring greater connectivity and opening opportunities for companies and our two countries’ people-to-people movement.”

Singapore being a small country, it is important that it actively engages different regions of the world to establish better understanding with other countries and support, Madam Halimah said.

Describing her visit as “very successful”, she said it reaffirmed that Singapore regards Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as partners, and that the Republic wants to really look at opportunities in the Central Asian region.

A delegation of 22 business representatives from 19 Singapore companies attended a business forum in each of the two countries organised by the Singapore Business Federation, in conjunction with the state visits.

Madam Halimah’s visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – the first by a Singapore head of state to Central Asia – came at the invitation of their respective presidents.

The delegation was warmly welcomed in both countries, with the Singapore flag and the host country’s flag lining some roads.

Large screens proclaiming the friendship between Singapore and Uzbekistan, seen along the streets in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on May 24, 2023. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Madam Halimah said both countries have a healthy respect for Singapore’s public administration and are interested to learn how a small country with no natural resources is able to grow and develop into what it is today.

Hence, Singapore has suggested a programme to train officials in areas such as leadership and governance, she said.

Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had signed a memorandum of understanding with Kazakhstan’s Agency for International Development to help train officials from five Central Asian countries in areas such as public administration, urban development and trade negotiations.

Asked how Singapore benefits from offering capacity-building training programmes to other countries, Madam Halimah noted that developed economies had supported Singapore in its early nation-building days.

For instance, Dutch economist Albert Winsemius gave Singapore guidance on economic policies and development, and the Republic’s good relationship with the Netherlands continues today, she said.

“So it’s the same for both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, or any other country that is in the developing stage. We provide them with support and share whatever we can. It’s not all a one-sided affair because they, too, can share a lot with us, so it’s a two-way process,” she said, adding that growth and development are “not a zero-sum game”.

If the two countries grow and Singapore continues to have strong bilateral relations with them, there will be many opportunities not just at the government level, but also for the private sector, she added.

At the end of the interview, Madam Halimah was asked if she has decided whether she will be running in the upcoming presidential election, which is due by Sept 13.

“I will let the media know in due course,” she replied.

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