Friday 15 April 2016

Singapore and Norway reaffirm close ties

Republic is one of country's closest friends in Asia, says visiting Norwegian Prime Minister
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2016

One year after Norway became independent in 1905, the Scandinavian country set up a consulate here - a sign of Singapore's importance as a harbour for Norwegian vessels.

Yesterday, 110 years later, Norway's visiting Prime Minister Erna Solberg paid tribute to the enduring friendship between the two countries, calling Singapore "one of our closest friends in Asia".

Ms Solberg, who was hosted to lunch at the Istana by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said both share a history and a forward-looking economic relationship.

This includes digital services, renewable energy and start-ups with a global future, on top of longstanding ties in maritime and oil and gas.

Mr Lee reaffirmed the close and growing ties between the two countries, and said Norway will host a state visit by President Tony Tan Keng Yam in October.

Singapore, Mr Lee said, has long been "a home away from home" for Norwegian seafarers.

Norway is the sixth-largest contributor to Singapore's Registry of Ships, while Singapore hosts the largest Norwegian business community in Asia, with nearly 400 companies here, including shipping banks and brokerage firms.

Mr Lee shared with Ms Solberg and her delegation how Dutch economist Albert Winsemius had once wondered aloud as to why he felt an affinity with Singapore and found success here.

Dr Winsemius, Singapore's economic adviser from 1961 to 1984, concluded that it was because of the Calvinist tradition that emphasised self-reliance and hard work, traits he saw in the pioneer generation.

"A similar mindset applies in northern Europe, to be able to survive long winters, harsh climates, not necessarily fertile lands and to be able to endure, grow and develop a high civilisation," said Mr Lee. "We need that kind of mindset, and we find kindred souls on the other side of the world and we make common cause together."

Mr Lee also cited Norway's foresight and discipline when it discovered large reserves of oil and gas in its continental shelf in the 1960s.

It set up the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, with prudent spending rules that are strictly adhered to.

This is worth learning from, he added: "That ethic of toughness, hard work and prudence is something we admire and hope to emulate in Singapore."

Ms Solberg visited the Singapore lab of Norwegian firm DNV GL, which worked with Singapore start-up SwarmX to develop an autonomous drone docking station that was launched yesterday.

She also spoke at the Norway-Asia Business Summit, and gave the International Institute for Strategic Studies Fullerton Lecture.

Her three-day visit ends today.

Additional reporting by Rebecca Tan

Norwegian PM hopes to boost links in new areas
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2016

Norway sits on the Arctic line and Singapore is half the world away.

Yet when Singapore made a bid to join the Arctic Council in 2011, Norway strongly argued Singapore's case. Likewise, Singapore strongly supported Norway's bid to boost ties with ASEAN.

Yesterday, visiting Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said she hopes such cooperation will get even stronger when President Tony Tan visits Norway in October.

Both countries have much in common - they each have just over five million residents and a strong maritime tradition - and have come a long way since the first Norwegian consulate was set up here in 1906.

Ms Solberg told The Straits Times in an interview yesterday that she looks forward to further collaboration with Singapore in new areas like research and development, digitalisation and education.

"Besides what we already do on business, I still think education, research and development are areas of interest," she said.

"We have quite a lot of young people who come here to attend different programmes, to learn about Asia and the way of doing business here."

Singapore students in maritime studies have also gone on exchange programmes to Norway every year.

Ms Solberg believes countries like Norway and Singapore which are highly developed can be much more "innovative and productive" and use knowledge in R&D to spur this. For the first time, Norway's publicly-sponsored R&D funds reached one per cent of its Gross National Product, she added.

She also sees a future for tie-ups in areas like digitalisation.

"The Telenor chief just told us that they are moving their global digitalisation centre to Singapore," she said. Telenor Group, based in Norway's capital Oslo, is one of the world's major mobile operators with 203 million subscribers.

Ms Solberg believes more digital firms will move to Singapore, which is attractive to foreign firms with its "predictable government policies".

She noted that a number of Norwegian maritime firms have also moved their headquarters from Hong Kong to Singapore. Foreign direct investments from Norway to Singapore total some $23 billion.

Ms Solberg also delivered the International Institute for Strategic Studies Fullerton Lecture, where she said Singapore's consistent investment in education, healthcare and its people is key to sustainable development in a city.

Norway-Singapore ties are not all about shipping or technology. Last year, Singapore imported some 6,500 tonnes of salmon from Norway, and Ms Solberg said she managed to sample Singapore's chilli crab while on her short visit here.

Singapore a 'natural partner for Norwegian firms'
Local firms can help navigate complexities in ASEAN: Minister
By Chong Koh Ping, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2016

Singapore is a natural partner for Norwegian companies looking to seize the opportunities of a growing middle class in ASEAN, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang yesterday.

The Asian Development Bank predicts that the proportion of the middle class in South-east Asia will jump from about 24 per cent of its population in 2010 to 65 per cent in 2030.

Given this, ASEAN will become an increasingly important market for Norwegian firms to grow consumer-centric activities, said Mr Lim at the 6th Norway-Asia Business Summit held at the Fullerton Hotel.

He added that the ASEAN Economic Community will make the region a more compelling market and production base as it promotes greater economic integration among the 10 member nations.

But the region is one with diverse cultures and differing levels of economic development.

This is where Singapore and Norway could tap on the two countries' track record of fruitful collaboration to help Norwegian companies "navigate the complexities" of doing business in ASEAN.

Norway is Singapore's eighth largest trading partner from Europe and its fourth largest investor from Europe. As of the end of 2014, Norway had cumulatively made $23 billion worth of investments here.

In an earlier speech, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who is on a three-day visit here, said Asia boasts some 500 Norwegian-controlled companies, providing jobs for about 60,000 people.

And Singapore is home to the largest number of Norwegian companies in Asia, she said. There are nearly 400 of them here.

Ms Solberg, who is leading a delegation comprising senior government officials, will also visit Norwegian firm DNV GL's laboratory here.

Mr Lim cited Singapore's robust intellectual property regime, transparent government and consistent and predictable pro-business policies as some of the advantages Norwegian companies can enjoy.

Its extensive network of 21 free-trade agreements can also help Norwegian companies gain preferential access to markets within Asia and beyond.

With the recently signed Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, an Asia-Pacific free-trade area could eventually be formed. This will integrate Singapore further into the regional and global economies, he said

Mr Lim and Ms Solberg said both countries recognise the need to innovate and harness technological advances to remain competitive. He said Singapore and Norway could work in areas where the countries have complementary strengths.

"This includes areas like advanced manufacturing technologies such as robotics and additive manufacturing... and the maritime, oil and gas and clean technologies."

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