Ambassadors and High Commissioners on a mission to increase awareness of investment opportunities in their countries at the inaugural edition of the World Opportunities Forum 2019 (WOF).
The Forum attracted 18 foreign missions who presented investment information on a single platform. The following embassies and high commissions participated: Argentina, ASEF, Brazil, Egypt, Finland, India (WOF Country Partner), Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Uzbekistan in Singapore.
The World Opportunities Forum 2019 sessions offered a serious attempt to address matters that are intrinsic to the development and growth of economies and the opportunities that accrue from nurturing and nourishing close-knit ties through the development of trade and investments between nations. The Forum was approached as a “one-stop-shop” that would provide the audience with access to market intelligence on diverse markets and opportunities to cross invest. The Forum, held on 22nd May 2019, was aptly set in Singapore, a lively market place for investors to ‘Create, Connect & Cross Invest’ in sectors of their choice in several geographies.
The venue, Singapore’s iconic Fullerton Hotel’s The Ballroom was brimming with more than 250 luminaries — diplomats, policy makers, CEO’s, entrepreneurs, innovators, thought leaders and creative minds, who had gathered together to share this platform for opportunity creation and growth between businesses. The lively buzz gathered momentum with each session as one came to learn more about various markets from market leaders in these economies — and also from seizing this opportunity to network with decision makers and policy makers.
The Guest of Honour was the President of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation and nominated Member of Parliament Mr. Douglas Foo. He was followed by 30 esteemed speakers and moderators, 18 of whom were heads of missions representing their countries in Singapore. The Forum was organised by Sun Media Pte Ltd, led by Ms Nomita Dhar, Publisher and Managing Director. The event also marked the 20th anniversary of the publishing house which has since 1999 worked with many foreign missions in Singapore and the region to produce their publications.
Promotion of investment and trade form an important component of the work carried out by the foreign missions here and experience has shown that the positive flow of investment creates opportunities and bring change to the lives of the people as well as bring nations together. She said with WOF 2019, “We intend to continue to shed this light on positive news and create opportunities.”
In his speech, Guest of Honour, Mr. Douglas Foo spoke on “Singapore as a Hub for World Opportunities.” He shared how the island republic has grown to be one of the world’s top financial centres and was well positioned to support major initiatives such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of connecting 80 countries across three continents.
Sponsors and Partners
Gold sponsors: SAGIA and Olam International Ltd
Session sponsors: Aramco Asia Singapore Pte Ltd, Meinhardt Group and TVS Logistics Services Ltd
Media partners: NEWS 18, IN Diplomacy, Shikhar and IndoConnect
Supporting partners: Singapore Manufacturing Federation, Singapore Business Federation, Enterprise Singapore, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Malaysian Association in Singapore and BISA (Business Indonesia Singapore Association)
SMF President, Hon. Douglas Foo on Singapore as a Hub for World Opportunities
“Today, Singapore is a leading global transportation hub. Singapore’s port is the second busiest in the world, connecting more than 123 countries and 600 ports. In addition, our Singapore Changi airport serves more than 100 airlines flying to some 400 cities worldwide. Singapore’s trading climate has also been robust. In 2018, Singapore’s total merchandise trade reached S$1,055.9 billion, an increase of 9.2 percent from 20174.
To promote stronger economic ties, Singapore has been entering into bilateral investment treaties (BITs) with other countries since the mid-1970s. Although many of these earlier treaties have now been superseded by more complicated and sophisticated trade agreements such as double taxation agreements and other bilateral mechanisms, BITs remain important for Singapore and its smaller trading partners, and particularly so for investors from emerging nations with tax laws and regulatory frameworks in its infancy stages.
To encourage trading with overseas counterparts, Singapore has also signed free trade agreements or FTAs with other nations. To date, Singapore has entered into 23 bilateral FTAs with 31 trading partners. The most recent FTA that enters into force, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), is purportedly one of the world’s largest free trade agreement which covers 14% of the global economy. As we speak, there are still some FTAs which are concluded and signed and awaiting roll-outs, as well as some which are still undergoing negotiation. This includes the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA), which will provide Singapore greater access to the EU markets.
Singapore is also one of the top global financial centres in the world. As a major financial hub, Singapore is well positioned to support the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which was introduced by China President Xi Jinping in 2013, with the aim of connecting about 80 countries across three continents to China. In September 2017, Singapore and China had reaffirmed their collaboration to the BRI – infrastructural connectivity, financial connectivity and third-country collaboration.
With regard to financial connectivity, research statistics in 2018 showed that 33 per cent of all outward investments related to the BRI flows through Singapore, while 85 per cent of inbound investments for the initiative makes its way into China through Singapore.
The Singapore government has also established high level country to country business councils, with participation from private sector business leaders. Such unique establishments allow for the business community to exchange views with their respective counterparts in other countries and to be supported by their respective governments whose leaders may not be as well accustomed to commercial realities on the ground as compared to the businessmen themselves.
I myself am honoured to be one of the three Singapore Representatives on the ASEAN Business Advisory Council. The ASEAN BAC with the support from our respective governments have rolled out and implemented many initiatives to help to forge partnership among the enterprises in the ten countries of ASEAN for collaborations that will promote economic growth in ASEAN.
Such collaboration also allows for the more efficient formulation of strategies, promote business cooperation and remove impediments to doing business globally. Thus far, business councils have been set up in numerous countries including India, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia and China and within China alone, Singapore has set up at least 7 Business Councils with various provinces in China.
Click the link to read the full speech: http://www.sunmediaonline.com/magazine/indiplomacy/wof19_smf_pres_speech.pdf
Keynote Address by India: INDIA PRESENTS: Opportunities in the Age of Disruption
The keynote address was delivered by India’s High Commissioner to Singapore, HE Jawed Ashraf, who spoke on “Opportunities in the Age of Disruption” of focusing on a visionary path of inclusive growth and using the opportunities presented in this age of disruption. He pointed out that, “This is a time when we know the world is entering a phase when today’s jobs won’t exist tomorrow and tomorrow’s jobs are yet to be born. But it’s a time for extraordinary opportunities of the kind that we have not seen for ages.” He reminded his listeners that, “We have now the unprecedented opportunity to transform lives, to mainstream the marginalized, to empower the weak to unleash enterprise, to equip the youth, to transform governance to make it more citizen-centric, to improve delivery of public services; to bring banking, insurance, pensions and opportunities within the reach of all; to improve education and medical services — for these are the opportunities that are transforming lives across the world.”
Session 1: Investment Trends in ASEAN
The first joint panel of the day comprised three speakers from the ASEAN region: Indonesian ambassador to Singapore, HE Ngurah Swajaya, HE Dato’ Zainol Rahim Bin Zainuddin the High Commissioner of Malaysia and HE Joseph Del Mar Yap Ambassador of the Philippines. The session was chaired by Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman, Rajratnam School of International Studies.
Ambassador Ong Keng Yong shared that the important thing that they have done is reduce the tariffs, import duties and other obstacles for the movement of goods. He pointed out that in today’s digital economy a lot of components and high-tech goods are also being produced, imported/exported through the region and outside of it. He candidly admitted that: “We still cannot claim any big measures of success with regard to opening up the trade in the services sector, so we still have a lot do in this area.”
HE Ngurah Swajaya spoke of the significant milestone that Indonesia has reached in Jakarta, after decades of discussion regarding the construction of the MRT, which is now operational— though only 16km of it at present. He shared that the government plans targeting 200km in the next 10 years. HE Joseph Del Mar Yap spoke of how the Philippines converted a weakness into a strength. The country, he said, was highly urbanized and its economy has never been driven by exports, which is why its lagging behind in this area. But, because the Philippines has been mostly a consumer-driven economy, consumption accounts for a majority of its GDP today. For Malaysia, investment will now be driven by new characteristics, according to HE Dato’ Zainol Rahim Bin Zainuddin. He revealed that: “We are no longer a low-value investment destination, assembly or labour intensive operators. We are focusing on quality investment now. They should have the following characteristics: high technology and high value-added strong linkages with domestic industries, capital –intensive R&D, skill intensive and knowledge intensive. These are new kind of investments that we are inviting.”
In the presentation of the title “Enterprise Singapore: Emerging Market” Singapore’s key agency for global growth, its Global Markets Director, Middle East & Africa,Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and The Caribbean, Mr G.Jayakrishnan (pictured right), revealed that, “Across the emerging markets we are signing up avoiding of double taxation agreements, bilateral investment treaties— all with the aim of creating the framework to facilitate the flows of trade and investment both ways. Once these are in place we are confident that the business community will come along and utilize it.”
Session 2: SAGIA PRESENTS Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030
Saudi Arabia the primary protagonist in the Middle East’s economic arena has been going through a radical transformation as it follows the path identified by its Vision 2030, launched in 2016, to its future development and growth. In the presentation titled Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and the Next Step for Investors several panelists shed the light on these new developments. The session was chaired by Mr. Syed Mohamad Alsagoff, Middle East Specialist and Partner Yamako Pacific and I.Consilium Pte Ltd. Opening up on this burning topic HE Saad Saleh I. Alsaleh, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, reminded the audience that for many years oil had captured about 90% of the Kingdom’s overall budget and more than half of its GDP. Clearly that situation was no longer tenable— as the ambassador pointed out: “ That kind of dependence on oil will make the economy hostage to the rigours of the oil market and delay much of the transitions of an emerging economy.” The situation has increased the need for certain structural reforms, he shared, to change economic mobility in the public sector and to draw a vision for the future of the country, a vibrant society, a driven economy and an ambitious nation.
The General Investment Authority of the Kingdom, SAGIA, has been tasked with attracting diversified investments into the country and serving as an advocate for investors. Mr Abdullah Alharbi, Executive Director SAGIA, spoke of the creation of a brand called ’Invest Saudi’ to help investors understand what are the opportunities that have been created and to promote the Kingdom as a world-class investment destination. It has also created 25 services for the investor in certain categories so SAGIA provides all the intelligence data investors need. Mr Alharbi shared that SAGIA supports and connects investors with the right stakeholders in the country. Group CEO of Meinhardt, Omar Shahzad, acknowledged that the massive transformational change in the Kingdom has been initiated from the top leadership. He opined that: ”Vision 2030 is moving very quickly and if its executed according to plan he thinks that Saudi Arabia can be a great story of transformational change, development and progress.”
Session 3: Investments in Tourism, Technology and Infrastructure
The Forum’s third session brought together panelists from Kazakhstan, Russia and Uzbekistan on “Investments in Tourism, Technology and Infrastructure” and was chaired by Dr Shivaji Das MD and Partner, Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific who shared that the great unifying factor between these three nations was the great strides they have taken in liberating their economies and that in the world’s Ease of Doing Business rankings, all these three have made major improvements. Khazakhstan ambassador HE Dr Usen. A. Suleimen pointed out that: “The key factor for Khazakhstan’s economic development has been its ability to attract transformational levels of direct investments now approaching US$300 million.” Russian Ambassador HE Andrey Tatarinov revealed that there are 25 Special economic Zones (SEZ) in Russia with over 650 residents operating in various fields, including IT, pharmaceuticals, automotives etc. The volume of investment, he shared, is over US$14 billion. HE also revealed that the new opportunities will bring about the conclusion of the Singapore-Eurasian Economic Union Agreement, which is slated to be signed before the year end…tentatively in October. Uzbekistan Ambassador, HE Khakramon Shakirov shared some details of his country economic agenda for 2017-2021 in which it sought to create a more agreeable investment climate and FDA attraction as a key priority for the country. It vision also focused on improving public educational institutions, upliftment of the rural populace and propagating security and harmony and religious tolerance.
Session 4: Policy Changes and What they Mean to Investors
Panelists Argentina, Brazil and Peru brought their thoughts to the session of “Policy Changes and What they Mean to Investors” which was chaired by Mr. Rahul Pathak, Associate Editor of The Straits Times, who shared that according to a report by Forbes magazine Latin America’s economies are growing faster than Asia’s whose growth is expected to stay flat, especially with recent trade tensions. Argentinian ambassador HE Frederico Alejandro Barttfeld, did not find this surprising, given that most of the land in his country is extremely fertile and rich in natural resources, producing quality food for 400 million people, even though the country’s populace is just 40 million. This is the first area of potential for foreign investors, in his mind.
Session 5: OLAM PRESENTS Africa the Next Frontier
The presentation on “Africa the Next Frontier” had panelists HE Mohamed Ahmed Fathi Abulkheir of Egypt, HE Aladkknremi Bolaji High Commissioner of Nigeria, HE Guillaume Kavarruganda, High Commissioner of Rwanda and HE Modise Casalis Mokitlane , High Commissioner of South Africa, shed light on one of the most promising continent’s for investors. The session was chaired by Mr Johan Burger, Africa Specialist and Lecturer in African Studies in Singapore and South Africa. HE Mohamed Fathi Abulkheir spoke of the opportunities in Egypt created by the Suez Canal Economic as a duty free zone where investing companies could have 100 % ownership as well as control of their import/export activities. The Nigerian High Commissioner shared that even investors in the know say that you cannot claim to be in Africa if you are not in Nigeria— the land of great opportunities today. The Rwandan High Commissioner spoke of the country’s focus on aviation, telecom and IT where investors could expect to reap good dividends. South Africa’s High Commissioner HE Mokitlane reminded the audience of his country’s status as the most industrialised economy in the region and one of the most open economies in the world where the ratio of exports to imports, the GDP exceeds 58%.
Olam, one of Singapore’s biggest investors in the African continent was also there to lend credence to the confidence shown by the speakers of the African panel. Mr. V Srivasthan CEO and MD, Africa & Middle East, Olam International (pictured right), pointed out that in terms of rate of growth and population Africa is one of the fastest growing continents and, more importantly, the demographics reveal that over 60% of the population is under the age of 30, which is going to be a huge market with a lot of opportunities to come.
Session 6: Investing in the Future of Our Planet
The Forum, in its final run focused on one of the biggest challenges and also opportunities for investment titled “Investing in the Future of Our Planet” where panelist HE Paula Parviainen Ambassador of Finland shared how important education will be the key for any change that is needed on a sustainable basis when it comes to addressing the ramifications of climate change. She was joined in the conversation by Poland’s Ambassador HE Magdalena Bogdziewicz and HE Karsten Warnecke, Executive Director of the Asia-Europe Foundation. The session was chaired by Mr Vikram Khanna, Associate Editor of The Straits Times.
The idea of the World Opportunity Forum (WOF) was born from the long and fruitful partnerships Sun Media, which put down roots in Singapore’s publishing world 20 years ago, has enjoyed with several foreign missions in Singapore to produce their publications— many of which are centered on building bilateral ties, expanding trade and investment opportunities.