First Singapore mission to Colombo in new FTA era says leveraging Sri Lanka for South Asia

Minister of Industry and Commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen (seated second from right); President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Roland Ng (seated second from left); Shamil Mendis, President of the Sri Lanka-Singapore Business Council (seated far left) and Prima Group General Manager for Sri Lanka, Tan Beng Chuan (standing-far left) at the SCCCI evening reception in Colombo on May 9.

“Many Singapore businesses see Sri Lanka as a gateway to South Asia,” announced President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI) Roland Ng on 9 May in Colombo. SCCCI has 5,000 corporate members and more than 160 association members, who in turn represent over 40,000 companies across various industries.Sri Lanka’s newest Free Trade partner in the world, itself a major economic hub, hinted its keen ambitions to leverage the Sri Lankan economic partnership as a springboard towards the rising South Asian market.

President Roland is in Colombo leading a 30-member Singaporean business delegation to Sri Lanka. Among the delegation are both listed and unlisted (but well established) firms including Tat Hong Holdings (cranes and heavy equipment), Tekwah Industrial Corp (flexi pack & printing), Straco Corp (aquatics & tourism), On Cheong Co (jewellery), Tai Hua Food Industries (foods), Min Ghee Auto (automotive parts), SP Chemical Pte Ltd (chlorine and sodium hydroxide), Tiong Seng Holdings (construction), Sia Huat Pte Ltd (food service equipment),  Chia Kim Lee Food Industries (food and beverages conglomerate), Lian Huat Group (property development), Kim Ann Engineering (specialty metals), Motor-Way Credit (automobile supplies), Asiatic Group (engineering management specialist),  Chia Kim Lee Food Industries (food and beverages), Containers Printers Ltd (metal packaging), Daiya Engineering & Constructions (apartments and petroleum stations), Greenbay Marine (vessels), JP Nelson Equipment (leasing of engineering equipment), Kim San Trading (forestry products), Motor-Way Credit (automobiles), Porcelain Pte Ltd (skincare, luxury spas), Stenn International (trade finance provider), Straco Holding (invvesting), Xin Ji Da Ltd (tyres and wheels), Enterprises Singapore (ESG), Hupco Pte ltd (fresh fruits,vegetables) and Standard Chartered Bank.

Also joining the evening was Shamil Mendis, President of the Sri Lanka-Singapore Business Council.

“Singapore Companies can share their experience, insight and knowhow with their Lankan counterparts. Due to their own business approach and practices gained in the overseas market. This is not a case of one-sided change and interaction. Started in 1906, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI) is the apex business chamber of the Chinese Community in Singapore. With these connections and network, we can help to link up business opportunities abroad with S’pore companies. We partner with our government agencies to organise many initiatives, actities for our member companies.  This is to transform, and improve their capacities to spread overseas. This approach helps for Singaporean businessman to get to know well about Sri Lanka before coming here on business. SCCCI always played a role of introducing opportunities to Singapore businesses. Many Singapore businesses see Sri Lanka as a gateway to South Asia-just like S’pore is a natural springboard to Asia. As trade hubs, cooperation between both islands –Sri Lanka and Singapore-can help grow both islands to become prosperous. The FTA signed early this year has come into effect on 1st May and can further boost our cooperation. We welcome Sri Lankan businessmen to invest in South Asia, leveraging on an agreement, Singapore strategic strength. I am sure that links between our Singaporean businessmen and the Sri Lankan counterparts would have grown stronger after this trip to Sri Lanka. I urge all of you to take advantage of the opportunities to network, and to foster new partnership,” said Shamil Mendis.

Last year, Sri Lanka-Singapore total bilateral trade was at US $ 1.4 billion, surging from 2016’s $1.1 Billion. The trade balance is in favour of Singapore at a 5.3 import to export ratio. Despite this, year on year exports have more than doubled last year-from 2016’s $108 Million to $221 Mn in 2017. In the corresponding period, imports to Sri Lanka from S’pore too surged but only by 15% to $1.18 Bn (2017).

Sri Lanka’s top exports to Singapore last year were ships and boats (32% of total), newspapers & products of printing industry (24%), fuel-oil (11%), apparels (9.4%) and tea (2.6%). Main imports to Sri Lanka from Singapore last year were Petrol (31% of total imports), Gas oil/Diesel (21%), Gold (18%), jet fuel (2.25%) and fuel oil (2.5%). “Gas oil, Petrol & Kerosene type jet fuels” group became the main imports to Sri Lanka last year, claiming 52% of total imports from Singapore.

After Sri Lanka and Singapore signed the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA) on January 23, 2018 these numbers are expected to strengthen further.  The comprehensive free trade agreement covers goods, services, e-commerce, telecoms, FDI, intellectual property and public procurement.

Minister Bathiudeen warmly welcomed SCCCI President Roland’s statement and said he and his Ministry officials look forward to Singaporean industries to set up in Colombo. “I am confident that the new FTA would greatly strengthen bilateral trade and business at all levels. Singapore manufacturers can use our FTAs with India and Pakistan to export more than 8000 products made in Sri Lanka, duty free. I stress that HE President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s committed interest on relations with Singapore has enabled the speedier, successful completion of the FTA on our side,” he added.

Analysts say that SLSFTA is Sri Lanka’s first Free Trade Agreement that covers government procurement, and Singaporean enterprises can bid for Lankan projects. Singapore’s FDI into Sri Lanka amounted to US $488 Mn at end-2014. Among the well-known Singaporean investments in Sri Lanka are Prima Holdings, Surbana Jurong (Megapolis development), Woh Hup (property), and SilverNeedle (hospitality). Sri Lankan FDI flow into Singapore too was observed –and totalled US $150 Mn at end-2014.

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