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Making Singapore home for Koreans

Envoy is cooking something special in bilateral relations


Asia is filled with economic miracles; such is the case with two of the four Asian Tigers, Singapore and Korea.

Both countries were former colonies, both shook off the shackles of poverty to become economic powerhouses, both lack the natural resources needed to power those economies and both depend on free and open markets with transparent international trading systems to survive.

“Our trade relations are excellent,” said newly arrived Singapore Ambassador Peter Tan Hai Chuan to The Korea Herald.

Just over six years ago, Singapore became the second country to sign a free trade agreement with Korea.

Since then, trade has increased by almost 51 percent to reach $23.1 billion.

Korea is also in another FTA agreement with Singapore under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Korea FTA.

The Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation between ASEAN and Korea was signed in 2005, put into force four years later, making it one of the fastest trade agreements to be concluded by an ASEAN Dialogue Partner after signing.

Matchmaker

Tan considers himself a matchmaker for the two economies and will be working on several initiatives that will propel both countries into a higher level of cooperation and trade.

“Singapore is a ‘Home for Business’ and an ideal location in Asia for Korean companies to grow regional businesses, develop innovative solutions and tap into international talent,” said Tan.

He added that Singapore’s core strengths include a pro-business environment, strong network of trade agreements, trade and cultural connectivity with Southeast Asia, China and India and is home to over 38,000 international companies.

Thanks to these strengths and many more, the small nation has already developed a fast-growing base of more than 950 Korean companies.

“Singapore is a home of innovation where Korean companies can use Singapore as a test bed to customize products and solutions accordingly for different emerging markets,” he said.
Singapore Ambassador Peter Tan Hai Chuan (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)
Singapore Ambassador Peter Tan Hai Chuan (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)

Tapping talent

To help foreign companies tap into the markets of Southeast Asia and India, as well as other emerging markets, Singapore plans to launch the Institute of Asian Consumer Insights, which will enable companies to draw market intelligence on consumer insights in Asia.

Korean companies who decide to set-up shop in Singapore will have access to a wealth of top-caliber talent from around the world, in the country where 25 percent of the country’s population is comprised of expatriates.

Tan added that Singapore is also a great place for Korean individuals looking to launch their careers.

“Everyday life is made easier with the use of English and Singapore has a meritocratic work culture, is age and gender-blind, and has a cosmopolitan working environment,” he said. “There are regional and international work opportunities and there is a good proximity to top management companies that have their regional or international headquarters based out of Singapore.”

Singapore in Korea

Matchmaking is a two-way street and several Singaporean food and beverage companies have opened up operations in Korea with more on their way.

BreadTalk, Ya Kun, Crystal Jade and Bee Cheng Hiang have entered Korea in the past five years and are growing.

Charles and Keith opened their flagship store in Myeong-dong just a few months ago.

In each case, the Singapore brand entering partnered with Korean firms to expand their share into this market.

Destination Singapore

Tourism has always been an important sector for Singapore.

Its richness and variety of experiences have attracted a 33 percent increase of Korean travelers from 2009 and is something that Tan is looking forward to promote further.

“Apart from Singaporean food, of which I am keen to further raise awareness in Korea, I am also keen to raise other aspects of tourism,” he said.

Tan will also continue to promote Singapore’s strong educational institutions which have attracted many Korean students looking for a short- or long-term education in an English environment from an Asian neighbor.

“We also offer a diverse lineup of signature leisure and business events all year round,” he said.

They include the World Gourmet Summit, the Great Singapore Sale, Formula 1 Grand Prix, and the Asia Fashion Exchange.

“Combined with our two integrated resorts, Singapore is now very much a must-visit destination in the region,” he said.

Bridging cultural divide

Looking ahead, one area that Tan would like to try to get Singapore to cooperate more with Korea is in the area of culture.

“Korea is home to many fine museums which Singapore museums can partner with,” he said. “This will draw a lot of interest from Singaporeans who are generally interested in Korea.”

As ambassador also accredited to Mongolia, Tan gave the example of the Genghis Khan Exhibition at the ArtScience Museum at the Marina Bay Sands in February which was visited by the Mongolian prime minister during his official visit to Singapore.

“Similarly, I am keen to work with Korea to have an exchange of exhibitions,” he said.

“Singapore’s history is short but it is unique and we have plenty to share because our museums would welcome Korea’s rich history and tradition. Through this we can also increase our mutual understanding,” he said.

By Yoav Cerralbo (yoav@heraldcorp.com)
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