Thursday, 6 October 2016

Singapore, India to step up cooperation in key areas

Projects include skills training for India's youth and help in developing its smart cities
By Charissa Yong, In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2016

Singapore and India yesterday pledged to strengthen cooperation in several key areas, a year after they upgraded the relationship to a strategic partnership.

These include skills training for India's youth to support its economic transformation, helping develop its smart cities, and expediting the ongoing review of a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.

During their meeting, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Indian counterpart, Mr Narendra Modi, did a detailed review of the partnership, and agreed to appoint senior ministers to facilitate investment flows and deepen financial cooperation.

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will discuss new and innovative ways for both countries to cooperate and find win-win outcomes.

"Singapore is a firm believer in India. We continue to contribute, where we can, to your remarkable development story," Mr Lee said at a joint press conference alongside Mr Modi.

"I look forward to India playing a growing role in the region because we believe your economy and your influence will continue to grow for many more years," Mr Lee added.

Trade and investment ties form the bedrock of the bilateral relationship, with Singapore being one of India's largest sources of foreign direct investment, and over 8,000 Indian firms present in Singapore.

Defence and security cooperation was also a key pillar of the partnership, Mr Modi noted.

"As two maritime nations, keeping the sea lanes of communication open, and respect for international legal order of seas and oceans, is a shared priority," he said.

And cooperation with ASEAN and participation at its meetings are "aimed at building an open and inclusive architecture for regional cooperation, in an atmosphere of trust and confidence", he added.

Both leaders also agreed to enhance cooperation against terrorism and in cyber security.

PM Lee is in India on a five-day working visit, and noted the growing optimism about its prospects.

He also called for greater air connectivity, saying it would "send a strong signal to the world that India is serious about attracting investment and businesses".

Yesterday, he and Mr Modi witnessed the exchange of three agreements: one on intellectual property and two on skills development.

The Institute of Technical Education Education Services will work with Assam state to set up a skills development centre for India's north- eastern states, as well as collaborate with India's National Skill Development Corporation on developing skills. "It is a follow-up to our strategic partnership and I hope it will play a useful role in India," Mr Lee said.

Singapore has set up a skills centre in Delhi and is helping to set up a centre of excellence for tourism training in Udaipur, Rajasthan, which Mr Lee will launch on Thursday (Oct 6).

PM Lee, Modi hail deepening bilateral ties
Meeting of leaders in Delhi marked by mutual desire to advance Singapore-India relations
By Charissa Yong, In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2016

At a press conference in New Delhi yesterday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about how he had been informed about Singapore's plans to put driverless cars on the road.

"But we all rest assured that one of India's strongest well-wishers, Prime Minister Lee, is in the driving seat for Singapore and for our bilateral relationship," he quipped to laughter.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong, standing next to him, broke into a wide grin.

That captured the tone for the day as the the two leaders met yesterday at Hyderabad House, where foreign dignitaries visiting India are usually hosted.

After working meetings, both leaders spoke at a joint press conference of the deepening ties between their countries.

Mr Lee thanked his host for his "very warm welcome and his warm words", and credited India's transformation and optimism about its prospects to Mr Modi's dynamic leadership and clear vision.

Mr Modi called Singapore a key partner on India's journey of strong economic growth and transformation.

"I deeply value your personal friendship, and your leadership in taking our bilateral relationship forward," Mr Modi said to Mr Lee, whom he called a friend of India.

The mutual desire to advance these bilateral ties was at the core of both leaders' remarks yesterday, the second day of Mr Lee's five-day working trip to India.

He was most recently in the country in 2012, while Mr Modi last visited Singapore in November last year.

Both men had exchanged messages on Twitter earlier yesterday before they met, with Mr Lee saying he was looking forward to meeting Mr Modi, and Mr Modi welcoming Mr Lee to India.

There were also sombre moments yesterday, such as when Mr Modi recalled that his first visit to Singapore as prime minister was for a "solemn occasion" last year, to pay respects to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding Prime Minister.

Mr Modi also said he was saddened by the death in August of former president S R Nathan, who was "a close friend of India".

Mr Nathan had been conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest honour India gives overseas Indians. Mr Modi said: "We will miss him."

Mr Lee also offered his condolences to the Indian government and to the families of those killed and injured during an attack last month on the Uri army base in Kashmir.

He said: "Singapore strongly condemns terrorist attacks of all forms."

Later, Mr Lee, who treated Mr Modi to supper at Komala Vilas last year, was hosted by the Indian Prime Minister to a sumptuous meal with a spread of no fewer than 14 North and South Indian dishes.

Mr Lee also received a call by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and met about 200 Singaporeans based in India at a dinner reception.

Singapore businesses' interest in India growing
By Charissa Yong, In Udaipur (Rajasthan), The Straits Times, 6 Oct 2016

In a part of India known for its grand palaces and glittering lakes stands something distinctly Singaporean - a shopping centre with a Singapore-style foodcourt and a range of international brands including McDonald's, Domino's Pizza and Subway.

The Celebration Mall, located in tourist hot spot Udaipur in the north-western state of Rajasthan, is a symbol of the growing interest of Singapore's businesses in India.

Developed by CapitaLand, it was Udaipur's first standalone mall when it was launched in 2011. It is one of four malls in India fully owned and managed by a Singapore developer. The others are in Bangalore, Mangalore and Hyderabad.

Yesterday, CapitaLand announced plans to open two more malls in India by 2019. The developer's The Ascott business unit, which manages serviced residences, has also signed a deal with Sandhya Hotels to manage three new serviced residences in India.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited Celebration Mall yesterday evening after bad weather delayed his arrival in Udaipur. He was scheduled to fly into the city in the afternoon, but 10 minutes away from Udaipur, poor visibility forced his plane to turn back to New Delhi. "Sometimes Mother Nature has her own plans," Mr Lee said in a Facebook post while waiting in New Delhi for the weather to clear.

Foreign direct investment from Singapore to India has risen in recent years, from $2.6 billion in 2006 to $19.4 billion in 2014.

PM Lee said at a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday that these investment flows should be facilitated. Mr Modi said trade and investment ties form the bedrock of the bilateral relationship, and a bilateral agreement on intellectual property signed on Tuesday would facilitate business-to-business ties.

A Singapore Business Federation delegation is also in India this week.

PM Lee called on Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in New Delhi yesterday, and is scheduled to open a tourism skills training centre in Udaipur today.

India is also looking to build 100 Smart Cities, and a consortium comprising Ascendas-Singbridge and SembCorp Development is bidding to be master developer for Andhra Pradesh's new capital Amaravati.

"Singapore cannot do a hundred Smart Cities, but we hope to help develop one - Amaravati," Mr Lee said.

Lifting tax exemption on capital gains poses risk: PM

By Nirmala Ganapathy, India Bureau Chief In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 7 Oct 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has cautioned India over withdrawing a tax exemption on capital gains, saying it could hurt the South Asian country and affect its attractiveness to investors from Singapore.

India is looking at removing the tax exemption given to Singapore after it withdrew a similar facility to Mauritius recently to prevent Indian firms from routing cash there to avoid paying taxes.

A 2006 tax treaty between India and Singapore had a provision that any changes in the Mauritius treaty would automatically apply to the one with Singapore.

In an interview with The Hindu newspaper, Mr Lee said Singapore was different from Mauritius and was careful to ensure there was no hot money or black money funnelled through it. India also had over $100 billion in a wide range of investments from Singapore over the last decade.

"We have actually built up a flow of bona fide good investments into India which is very substantial, and there is a whole community of professionals who are managing this out of Singapore," Mr Lee added in an interview with Singapore media.

"And I think it's important that, whatever India does, they don't shake that confidence which has been built up over these past 10 years and they don't cause unintended harm to themselves."

He added: "On that basis, PM (Narendra) Modi and I agreed that DPM Tharman and Mr Arun Jaitley will meet again and see how we can think out of the box and work out solutions which should be beneficial to both countries."

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley have been tasked with discussing the issue further and to see how they can facilitate investment flows.

Said Mr Lee: "I explained to Mr Modi it is not a question of whether India is entitled to do this, which of course they are, but whether it is in India's interests to do it and, if so, what is the best way to do it without causing unintentional harm to India."

The move to tighten tax treaties is part of a campaign by PM Modi to crack down on black money, or funds that are never reported to the authorities.

His government recently withdrew capital gains tax exemption to Cyprus, and has been looking at ways to bring back billions of dollars sent abroad by rich Indians to avoid taxes.

Under the agreement re-negotiated with Mauritius, capital gains tax will be imposed for companies already based in Mauritius from next year.

There is hesitation on the Indian side to make exceptions for any country, and a senior Indian official noted the tax treaty with Singapore is a "work in progress" but declined to comment further. Analysts say investors are concerned about the uncertainty.

"It is going to be a tough negotiation," said Mr Rishi Sahai, managing director of investment bank Cogence Advisors.

"There are challenges for Indian policymakers," said Mr Mukesh Butani, managing partner of BMR Legal. "India wants to treat all nations equally."

Singapore plants seed for tourism skills training in Udaipur
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 7 Oct 2016

Singapore has SkillsFuture, which wants Singaporeans to develop a deep mastery of skills relevant to jobs. India has Skill India, a national campaign which seeks to train 400 million people in skills by 2022.

Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung drew parallels between both drives at the launch of Singapore's second skills training centre in India yesterday.

Located in Udaipur, the Centre of Excellence for Tourism Training is scheduled to begin operations later this year and will have an annual intake of 480 students.

It will offer up to six courses including retail services, hospitality operations and culinary arts.

Skills development is a key area of cooperation between Singapore and India, and the Udaipur centre is one of three that Singapore's Institute of Technical Education (ITE) is helping to start in India.

The first, the World Class Skill Centre in New Delhi, is running, and another is being planned in the state of Assam in the north-east.

Mr Ong was in India with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who ended the official leg of his five-day working trip there yesterday.

Together with Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, Mr Ong unveiled a plaque and planted a sapling at the launch of the centre.

Various Indian states have been approaching Singapore to set up skills development centres throughout India, said Mr Ong, adding that whether more are on the cards depends on the state governments.

Mr Ong said there is a global trend towards "greater realisation that it's really your skills, your competency, that will make you valuable to industries and employers".

This is why governments around the world are pushing skills training, because competent workers can secure good jobs, he added.

Mr Rajat Kumar Mishra, secretary in the Rajasthan government's department of skills, employment and entrepreneurship, said the Udaipur centre would be a benchmark for other similar institutions. "Tourism is one of the most important sectors in Rajasthan. We want to capture the entire tourism market throughout India and also abroad."

The centre's training could also help Rajasthan workers get jobs in cruise liners and airlines, he added. "It's a question of making them employable in such a way that the employer cannot say no to them."

ITE Education Services partnered with the Rajasthan state government to set up the Udaipur centre and train its trainers.

Earlier yesterday, PM Lee witnessed the signing of two memorandums of understanding (MOU). The first, between IE Singapore and the Rajasthan government, covers smart urban solutions and tourism development and paves the way for Singapore companies to do more business in the state, including projects on waste management and digital networking in remote areas.

The second MOU to train 100 Rajasthan tourism officials was signed by the state's government and the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise. The 36-month programme is supported by the Temasek Foundation International with a $484,000 grant, and co-funded by the Rajasthan tourism department.

Many opportunities in India amid challenges: PM Lee

Cooperation will bring substantial benefits even if there are still bottlenecks, he says
By Charissa Yong, In Udaipur, Rajasthan, The Straits Times, 7 Oct 2016

India has made remarkable progress in recent years and holds many opportunities for Singapore, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday as he wrapped up his five-day working trip to the country.

He encouraged Singapore businesses to seize the opportunities, saying cooperation with India will bring substantial benefits even if there are still "bottlenecks" that need to be eased.

"We believe that there are opportunities and we would like to work on it with them," he said.

Singapore has been stepping up cooperation with India in a number of areas such as smart cities and skills training, and both countries upgraded their bilateral relationship to that of a strategic partnership last November.

This trip gives those projects an extra push, said Mr Lee, who met his counterpart, Mr Narendra Modi, and called on President Pranab Mukherjee in New Delhi this week.

Giving an optimistic assessment of India's prospects, Mr Lee pointed to how Mr Modi - who came to power two years ago - is pushing several reforms and setting a new direction for the South Asian giant.

India began its economic liberalisation drive in 1990, but has not progressed as fast as some expected.

Asked by reporters if Singapore is "hedging its bets" on the country becoming an economic powerhouse, Mr Lee said: "I am trying to bet on all the good horses. And India, it has had fits and starts, but if you compare it to where they were back in 1990... I think they have made a lot of progress."

He cited the growth of India's economy by 7.5 per cent a year and its growing openness towards foreign investment.

This has drawn investment from Singapore to the tune of $19.4 billion in 2014, seven times more than the $2.6 billion in 2006.

Some joint projects that both countries have embarked on have also come to fruition, added Mr Lee.

For instance, Singapore was the master planner for Amaravati, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh state and one of the 100 smart cities Mr Modi wants to build. A consortium of Singapore companies is bidding to be the project's master developer.

Singapore has also worked with India to open two skills training centres in New Delhi and Udaipur, following Mr Modi's pledge to train 400 million people by 2022.

A third such centre is planned for the state of Assam.

PM Lee welcomed these developments, adding that he hoped both countries would work on making progress in other areas too.

The second review of the free trade pact between Singapore and India, known as the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, began in 2010 and has not been concluded. Singapore hopes the review will be completed soon, said Mr Lee.

He also said he hopes to work towards the liberalisation of air services between both countries. "If you go to the provinces or states like Rajasthan, they are very keen on more air services because it means more tourism, more business for them," he added.

In an interview with The Hindu newspaper published yesterday, Mr Lee had acknowledged that India's complex system of rules and regulations at the state and federal levels could deter businesses keen on expanding into the country.

But, he said, despite the challenges, Singapore companies have invested in India, Singaporeans are working there, and Indian companies are likewise investing in Singapore and creating jobs for Singaporeans. "I think that the benefits are not always immediate but, if you look at it in totality, they are substantial," he said.

He added that the country has also become more open to foreign investment in sectors such as insurance and even defence. "There are still restrictions and we hope they are able to see their way to ease these restrictions as well," he said.

During his trip, Mr Lee had been asked by The Hindu to pick an animal that best describes India.

He replied: "I think the Indians consider themselves like an elephant. It moves not always the fastest, but inexorably."

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