Thursday 16 October 2014

Turkey, S'pore step up strategic partnership

The two also agree to boost people-to-people and economic ties
By Zakir Hussain In Ankara, The Straits Times, 15 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE and Turkey have agreed to step up contacts in a range of areas such as defence and counter-terrorism cooperation, as well as economic and people- to-people links.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday signed a declaration on a strategic partnership to boost these ties.

Under it, leaders and officials will meet more regularly and promote their countries as gateways to their respective regions: Turkey as the door to Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, and Singapore to the Asia-Pacific region.

"We share certain similarities in our strategic situation, while being complementary," Mr Lee said at a press conference with Mr Davutoglu after the signing. "We are in different parts of the world, but see opportunities to work together and do more together."

Mr Davutoglu said relations dated back to 1864 when the Ottoman Empire established its mission in the region, and both countries had seen ties grow significantly in recent years.

Pointing to similarities between their flags, which have a crescent moon and stars, he added: "We are very close, as if we were literal neighbours."

Both leaders hope the partnership will give impetus to broaden and deepen ties, and to negotiations under way for a free trade agreement - on which good progress has been made.

Mr Lee said both sides have an interest in becoming aviation hubs and he looked forward to progress on an enhanced bilateral air services agreement.

Before the signing, both leaders met for about an hour, during which Mr Lee told Mr Davutoglu Singapore will appoint a resident ambassador to Ankara next year.

Mr Davutoglu thanked Mr Lee for backing Turkey's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council - which will be determined this week - and Mr Lee, in turn, thanked him for inviting Singapore to the G-20 summit in Turkey next year.

With the signing of the declaration, Turkey joins a select group of countries with which Singapore has strategic partnerships. The United States, France and Vietnam are the others, and talks with Australia and India are under way.

Under the partnership, Singapore and Turkey will sustain the momentum of high-level political visits, and exchange views as well as build capacity on counter-terrorism matters. Also on the cards are more student exchanges and cooperation to provide technical assistance to other countries.

Officials will also discuss ways to promote Turkey and Singapore as complementary gateways with the aim of increasing trade and investment flows between the two regions, and to strengthen aviation and maritime cooperation.

Both leaders yesterday also witnessed Singapore research agency A*Star sign an agreement with the Turkish Education Foundation to extend a programme for up to 15 top Turkish students to pursue PhDs in Singapore.

Also signed was a letter of intent for the agricultural agencies of Singapore and Turkey to further develop ties.

Yesterday, Mr Lee visited the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, and laid a wreath there.

He was hosted to lunch by Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan where they exchanged views on recent economic and financial developments and Turkey's preparations for its G-20 chairmanship.

Mr Lee also called on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and was hosted to dinner by Mr Davutoglu. He leaves for Milan later today for the Asia-Europe Meeting of leaders from the two continents.

S'pore, Istanbul 'can be vibrant air hubs'
PM Lee raises idea of enhanced air services agreement between cities
By Zakir Hussain In Ankara, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE and Istanbul can be vibrant air hubs for their respective regions if the aviation sector is opened up as both cities expand their airport capacities, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Both cities aim to cater to 150 million passengers a year in the future - treble their volume today - he said in comments to the Singapore media yesterday at the end of a four-day visit, his first to Turkey.

Mr Lee said he suggested to his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu that Singapore and Turkey should enhance their air services agreement to boost flights and fifth freedom rights on both sides.

Fifth freedom rights allow a carrier to fly from its home country to another one before picking up passengers and flying on to a third country.

"We have made the argument to them that Turkey is building itself up as a major hub for air transport in this part of the world," said Mr Lee, who arrived in Istanbul on Sunday before proceeding to the Turkish capital of Ankara.

A new airport is being built in Istanbul, and in Singapore, Changi Airport is building two new terminals and a third runway.

"To be hubs on that scale, we need diversity, we need connectivity. We need as many operators as possible," he said.

"You're not talking just between Singapore and Turkey, but beyond Turkey and beyond Singapore in both directions, which will benefit the carriers on a win-win basis. I hope they'll look at this."

Mr Lee said both sides were also making good progress on a high-quality free trade agreement (FTA) and hope to ink it next year.

On Tuesday, Mr Lee and Mr Davutoglu signed a strategic partnership agreement to step up ties across a wide range of sectors including defence and counter-terrorism cooperation.

"I've invited the PM to visit Singapore next year, and he agreed with me that we will aim to complete the FTA in time for his visit so that we can sign it in Singapore," he added.

Mr Lee also noted that while Turkey was very much focused on security and humanitarian problems affecting its neighbours, it was conscious it had a global role to play and saw Singapore as a useful partner from the Far East.

"I think that is why they have invited us to come to attend the G20 meeting next year when Turkey is hosting, which we consider a great compliment to us and we are very grateful for that," he added.

Describing the bilateral relationship as "very good", he noted that many Turkish leaders had visited Singapore over the last couple of years - including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in January, when he was Prime Minister.

"I've come to take it another step forward," Mr Lee added.

A 20-strong business delegation accompanied Mr Lee for part of his visit and he noted that Singapore firms were quite keen to explore opportunities here, citing PSA which has operated Mersin Port since 2007.

"There is a market here which is growing and we are interested in both the trade as well as the investment aspects, and the FTA will help that," he said.

While the scale of Turkish companies in Singapore was still not that large, he noted that Turkish company Genpower had done the lighting for last month's Formula One night race.

"We hope more of the companies will come because they have big infrastructure companies, and there are infrastructure projects all over the region, and they are interested to expand and have a global reach," he said.

Mr Lee left Ankara yesterday afternoon for Milan, where he will join leaders from Asia and Europe for the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem), a two-day summit which opens today. This year's summit is themed "Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security". Leaders will exchange views on global and regional issues, and discuss how to advance Asia-Europe cooperation.

Turkish govt, economy stable despite border troubles: PM Lee
By Zakir Hussain In Ankara, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2014

ANKARA - Turkey has been at the front line of the fight against terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the strains were visible this week. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the crisis put the country under considerable stress.

His dinner with his counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu started a little late as the Turkish PM was meeting more than 70 mayors and provincial leaders from the south-east, which has the most refugees.

"From the perspective of a solution, well, they know more than anybody else the difficulties in getting a solution," Mr Lee said.

"What they hope for is there can be moderate parties who can pull the different contending factions (in Syria) together and begin to form a new government. But I think that's a long way to go."

But amid troubles at its border, he noted that Turkey has a stable government and economy, and steady growth over the last decade: "Many of the neighbours have very serious problems. Some are almost failed states. And you have the problem of ISIS right on its borders.

"These are things our business people will naturally take note of. But if you are looking from a strategic point of view, for the long term, you've got to decide, do you have confidence, do you believe the country is on the move, the government is getting its act together, and if so, do you take a view and do you take a position?"

As for ISIS' impact, he said: "Even before ISIS, Syria was already in serious trouble and Iraq had difficulties. The Syrian civil war has gone on for three, four years now. Their immediate preoccupation is to deal with the outflow because when you have refugees from Syria, Turkey is the first port of call."

Turkish leaders told him there were 1.5 to 2 million refugees in Turkey.

'Tensions in region, but opportunities, too'
By Zakir Hussain In Ankara, The Straits Times, 15 Oct 2014

ANKARA - Tensions in Turkey's neighbourhood, with civil war in Syria and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) making gains, may deter some investors.

But Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says Singapore sees many plus factors for Turkey.

"You have to be able to look beyond the immediate issues to consider what the long-term trajectory is: whether the governments are stable, whether there is this ability to maintain a strategic direction over a long period, and to deliver results," he said.

He added: "We watch the environment but we are not deterred, and if the business opportunities are there, if the government is able to provide a positive business environment, these are important factors which weigh on the plus side."

He was responding yesterday to a Turkish journalist at a press conference who asked how he saw Turkey amid problems affecting its neighbours.

Headlines in the Turkish press have focused on the ISIS threat and the conflict in Syria, which has seen over two million refugees fleeing to Turkey.

But Mr Lee noted how more than 20 Singapore companies accompanied him to Istanbul this week, and cited how PSA has been in a successful joint venture to operate a port in Mersin since 2007.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, responding to a related question, thanked Mr Lee and Singapore businesses for their confidence. He said Turkey, over the past decade, was able to combine political stability with economic development.

Mr Lee said Singapore had been in a similar situation. When it became independent, South-east Asia was unsettled by tensions and conflict.

"We decided the way to do it was to make friends with our neighbours but, at the same time, establish in the middle of the Third World, a place, a city, a country with First World standards of government, of administration, infrastructure.

"And we gave investors confidence to come... So, when you ask, are there problems in the region around Turkey? The answer is 'yes'. Is that a veto to cause us no longer to look at the opportunities which are there? I think we should look at our history, and we will know the answer."

S'pore-Turkey FTA 'making progress'
PM Lee also says trade pact can be symbol of good bilateral relations
By Zakir Hussain, In Istanbul, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2014

TRADE negotiators from Singapore and Turkey are making good progress on a free trade agreement (FTA), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"The goods part is more or less negotiated; the services part is always more difficult, but that's where there will be greater dividends," he said of the FTA at a discussion with Turkish business leaders on the second day of his four-day visit to the country.

"If we are able to overcome these difficulties, we will be able to do more together," he added. 

"We hope we will be able to use this as a symbol of the good relations between our two countries, as well as a scheme by which we can strengthen our cooperation and yield practical benefits to companies which want to trade and invest in one another." 

Progress on the FTA, which Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang described as a "high quality and comprehensive" one, is all the more significant as talks were launched only when then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Singapore in January. 

Mr Lee is expected to take stock of that progress in Ankara today, when he calls on Mr Erdogan, who is now President.

Total bilateral trade amounted to $1.4 billion last year - a figure Mr Lee noted was still very modest, but which had the potential to grow much further. 

He informed his audience that Singapore is at the centre of a vibrant region of 600 million, with a more integrated Asean Economic Community by the end of next year, and countries discussing wide-ranging free trade deals such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Singapore, he added, was also upgrading its economy and looking for new partners to invest in it, as well as new opportunities to trade and to invest in areas like mass transit systems or consumer goods.

Speaking before Mr Lee, Turkey's Economy Minister Nihat Zeybecki encouraged businessmen on both sides to cooperate and invest more in their respective countries.

The two economies had a combined size of US$1 trillion (S$1.28 trillion), he noted, saying that unfortunately, trade with each other was negligible.

Turkey is a gateway to Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, he said, as he assured Singapore businesses that his government was committed to fixing obstacles they might face.

He also said the government procurement chapter of the FTA was the most challenging area for Turkey, and hoped its sensitivities in this area could be taken into consideration.

In conjunction with Mr Lee's visit, trade agency IE Singapore and the Singapore Business Federation organised a trip by a 20-strong team to Turkey, and held the 4th Turkey-Singapore business forum yesterday.

Key sectors Singapore players can invest in are consumer electronics, medical technology and infrastructure, both agencies said in a press statement.

Yesterday, Mr Lee also visited the historic Dolmabahce Palace and the bustling Grand Bazaar before flying to Ankara, the capital, where he will meet top Turkish leaders today.

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