The "green shoots of growth" are showing and with France and the rest of Europe emerging from a recession, President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday encouraged Singapore firms to take a fresh look at opportunities here.
Speaking at the end of his week-long visit, he said that after meeting French business and political leaders, including President Francois Hollande, "you can sense that things are improving".
France looks to be on the mend and if it manages to put its economic house in order, it will bode well for other nations, including Singapore which, Dr Tan said, needed to expand its trade and investment beyond its immediate region and traditional partners.
"There will be many opportunities for our companies, including our sovereign wealth fund, to look at France and at Europe. These things are just a matter of timing. If you wait until it's obviously done well, other countries will come in... and we will face more competition," he said.
French business leaders have extensive interest in South-east Asia, including in areas such as oil and gas. And when the ASEAN Economic Community is established, the common market of 600 million people will be a major attraction for French companies.
But even with the onset of opportunities, both sides flagged two areas in need of attention: cyber security, and religious extremism and radicalisation.
Singapore's newly formed Cyber Security Agency inked its first international agreement with France's Network and Information Security Agency, which will pave the way for sharing of information and best practices.
On religious extremism and radicalisation, Dr Tan suggested arranging joint meetings between scholars and religious leaders from both countries to share views for a better idea of how to approach the problem.
Dr Tan was honoured at having been accorded a state visit - the first by a Singapore president to France - and spoke of cooperation in more areas,such as space technology and nuclear safety.
Both countries also have a common interest in climate change and are working to ensure a successful outcome at the United Nations Climate Change conference in December. Singapore, with its smart nation initiative, is also keen on sustainable urbanisation and can learn from car- and bicycle-sharing schemes here.
Dr Tan, whose visit also marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties, invited Mr Hollande to visit Singapore and the French leader has accepted.
Asked to comment on a tribute Mr Hollande paid in Paris to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Dr Tan said Singapore had to build on the foundations Mr Lee laid and move the relationship forward.
Dr Tan met Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe before leaving for Paris from where he, his wife Mary Tan and the Singapore delegation left for home last night.
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