Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for social policies of Singapore, was on a working visit to New Delhi and Mumbai. During his visit, he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman, and other government leaders. Accompanied by officials from Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office, he also met Mr. Uddhav Thackeray – the Maharashtra Chief Minister, as also the industry captains.
The thrust of Mr. Shanmugaratnam’s India visit was to put greater emphasis on trade and investment ties. This is evident from the fact that issues such as collaboration in digital economy, infrastructure, skill development, and India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) figured prominently in his discussions with the Indian policymakers. During his visit, Mr. Shanmugaratnam also extended Singapore’s support for India’s G20 Presidency in 2022.
Bilateral trade between the two countries is already on an upward trajectory and amounted to more than US$ 26 billion in 2019. Both India and Singapore are cognizant of the fact that bilateral trade could still be elevated to new heights. With India’s recent decision to pull out of the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) negotiations, it is clear that India’s trade ties with Singapore will be governed by their bilateral CECA arrangement which was signed in 2005. The second review of the agreement was done in 2018. Greater and smoother access for Indian IT and services sector professionals in Singapore could further strengthen bilateral trade.
Expressing Singapore’s confidence in India’s long-term growth prospects, Mr. Shanmugaratnam said that India-bound investments from Singapore – particularly in the field of technology parks and logistics is growing. Singapore’s faith in India’s growth story is particularly reassuring at a time when the Indian economy is witnessing a fall in annual growth rates. It is important to note here that Singapore is the largest foreign investor in India.
During Mr. Shanmugaratnam’s visit, India sought support of Singapore in meeting its infrastructure targets. The recently launched ambitious ‘National Infrastructure Pipeline’ (NIP) project, which will be implemented in the next five years as part of the government’s spending initiative in the infrastructure
sector, is estimated worth more than Rs. 102 lakh crore. NIP has the potential to make great strides in terms of developing quality infrastructure across the country. That, however, would need massive resource pooling; the decision to invite Singapore – a time–tested friend, would greatly facilitate that process.
The two sides also agreed to jointly work on Singapore’s “Networked Trade Platform (NTP) Initiative”. Developed by the Singapore Customs and GovTech- the NTP initiative is lauded as digitization based one – stop trade and logistics ecosystem that can connect participants across the trade value chain-thereby facilitating a much fast and seamless process. Partnership with Singapore on digital e-commerce and digitization would also help India make a much – needed shift from being a labour-intensive economy to the one that relies on technology.
Mr. Shanmugaratnam also delivered the third Suresh Tendulkar Suresh Tendulkar Memorial Lecture titled “Broad-based Prosperity: Tackling the Fundamentals” at the Reserve Bank of India. According to the RBI, in his lecture, Mr. Shanmugaratnam highlighted “the need for structural reforms in the areas of human capital and developing cleaner and smarter cities. On human capital, he noted reforms on education, health care, skill matching and labour market reforms. He also noted that new cities could serve as crucibles of inclusive growth.” Clearly, India can learn a lot from Singapore in making its cities cleaner and smarter.
That Singapore is central to India’s Eastward Engagement is demonstrated at the peoples’ front as well. With around 1.2 million Singapore – bound tourists in 2019, India stood as the third highest source country for tourist inflows in Singapore, following China and Indonesia. There is a need to improve the number of India–bound Singaporeans as well.
Script: Dr. Rahul Mishra, Strategic Analyst on Southeast and East Asian Affairs