India, S'pore boost ties with new roundtable


India Bureau Chief, The Straits Times

The new high-level roundtable between Singapore and India will enable both countries to strengthen their relationship across many fronts and find mutual benefits by working together, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday.

Both sides have agreed on several new areas of cooperation, including food and energy security, green technology, particularly green hydrogen, digital connectivity and skills development, he noted.

"We look forward to the India-Singapore Ministerial Roundtable as a new regular platform for both sides to meet on an ongoing basis to coordinate and oversee these new areas of cooperation," said Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister.

"These areas of cooperation between India and Singapore will not only serve our two countries, but can serve as catalysts and pathfinders for broader cooperation in plurilateral or multilateral platforms. In that way, India and Singapore can play a role together to secure a more stable and prosperous Asia-Pacific."

Mr Wong was speaking to the Singapore media at the end of his five-day visit to India.

He had launched the inaugural roundtable last Saturday with Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong and Transport Minister S. Iswaran, who is also Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations.

India was represented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, and Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal.

Mr Wong said both sides have been discussing for some time how to take ties to a new level, and eventually decided on the roundtable as a platform to systematically enhance cooperation.

It will most likely take place every year, he said, adding that it should also be a format that can evolve as needs change.

For example, additional ministers could join, depending on their domains.

The inaugural roundtable started off with only ministers present - and no officials - so they could have candid and open conversations, Mr Wong said.

They also invited several business leaders from both sides to join a parallel discussion.

"It was striking that they too found many opportunities for cooperation similar to the areas that were discussed by the ministers," he said.

"Many of them were very excited about the possibilities for doing more with India. They have seen the efforts of reforms and the digitalisation measures bearing fruit, they have seen the start-up ecosystem becoming more vibrant.

"The bottom line is, both sides are fully committed to strengthening our bilateral relationship and taking it to a new level."

Industry leaders at the business roundtable included Temasek chief executive Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara, DBS Bank CEO Piyush Gupta and GIC CEO Lim Chow Kiat.

Mr Wong said there were many areas where both sides could complement each other.

"If you look at what India has achieved with its digitalisation efforts and explosive growth of start-ups and fintech companies, there is considerable potential there," he said.

"At the same time, Singapore is a financial centre. We also have been able to grow a vibrant fintech ecosystem within Singapore... It serves a much broader region. There certainly are possibilities for us to work together, for fintech companies to come together and explore."

The Monetary Authority of Singapore and India's International Financial Services Centres Authority on Sunday signed an agreement allowing Indian and Singapore fintech companies to collaborate and market-test innovative products.

Mr Wong urged fintech companies to experiment through the new sandbox. He also noted that if India's current trajectory continues, it will overtake Japan as Asia's second-largest economy and potentially become the world's third largest, after the United States and China.

It is also set to play a larger role globally, as it takes on the presidency of the Group of 20 (G-20) in 2023, and tackles issues like climate change or pandemic response.

Singapore, he added, has always believed in India as a strategically important partner.

"We hope to see India be engaged in Asean in a more constructive and systematic manner, and we welcome and look forward to India becoming an important player in this evolving regional architecture."

Mr Wong called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday. On Tuesday, he met Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya and Power and New and Renewable Energy Minister R.K. Singh.

He also took part in the Niti Aayog Roundtable on Renewable Energy and Green Hydrogen, attended by India's G-20 sherpa Amitabh Kant, officials and industry leaders.

"If you look at what India has achieved with its digitalisation efforts and explosive growth of start-ups and fintech companies, there is considerable potential there."

- DPM Lawrence Wong


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