`India, Singapore must hold frequent maritime talks`

Last year, India became the tenth largest trading partner of Singapore with bilateral trade of 35.4 billion Singapore dollars.

Singapore: India and Singapore must step up their maritime cooperation by holding frequent consultations on their major waterways to strengthen bilateral trade ties, says Gopinath Pillai, Singapore`s Ambassador-at-Large.

"I think more frequent consultations on what is happening and the management of the major waterways between India and Singapore is important," Pillai, also Chairman of the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), a think tank at the National University of Singapore, said.

"Though the environment is peaceful and serene, the Indian Ocean, Straits of Malacca and Bay of Bengal are areas of great interest to Singapore because of increasing commerce and trade," he told a news agency today.

He underlined Singapore`s rapidly growing relationship with India, especially following the 2005 Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement under which trade has flourished between the two countries.

Pillai, who was recently honoured with a Padma Shri by the Indian government, noted that the two countries` focus was on bilateral relations, economics affairs, defence matters and the importance of people-to-people relationship.

Last year, India became the tenth largest trading partner of Singapore with bilateral trade of 35.4 billion Singapore dollars.

The ongoing consultations at Foreign Ministry-level between the two countries have been fruitful with leaders from both sides holding regular discussions and exchanging views on bilateral as well as global issues, Pillai said.

"India, though preoccupied with its domestic issues, cannot run away from the fact that it is one of the largest countries in the world, second largest nation in population size and fourth largest global economy. Therefore, India has got a global role," he stressed.

"This is one of the main reasons why Singapore feels it is extremely important to engage India for the role it can play in the world," he said.

Elaborating, Pillai said he expected bilateral economic relations to expand further as more and more Indian companies have started using Singapore as a base to invest in Southeast Asia.

Almost all large Indian corporations have set up businesses in Singapore while small and medium size enterprises were increasing their presence for investment and trading. In recent years, more than 4,500 Indian companies have set up offices in Singapore for businesses in the city state and the region.

Indian companies have also started raising capital from Singapore for their business expansion in India, Pillai observed.

Singapore, along with London and Hong Kong, has become an important hub for Indian companies to raise Chinese Yuan-based funds, said Pillai.

He noted that some Indian companies have started raising funds from China following the internationalisation of the Yuan.

"I think India`s total investment through Singapore into the region is higher than Singapore`s total investment in India. As such, Singapore has become a good channel through which India invests in other countries in the region," he said.

"For Singapore, the Indian market is extremely important, and for India, the city state has become a gateway to the region."

India, as well as China, would become major sources of talent and expertise for Singapore, he said.

"There has been tremendous influx of very talented Indians into Singapore. They came in first for the IT industries, and now they are very significant players in the finance and banking sectors," he said.

"This is a very good sign. It helps the two countries to get even closer together," he added.

Though Singapore has slowed down immigrant flow in the current bearish economic environment, the city state would continue to tap the Indian talent and expertise in the longer-term, he said.