SINGAPORE - Belarus, the former Soviet state that lies east of Poland, may not be the first foreign market to spring to mind for Singaporean businesses looking to expand.
However, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) is encouraging firms to explore opportunities in the country of about 10 million people, one of Eastern Europe's rising economies.
Speaking at the inaugural Belarus-Singapore Business Forum yesterday, SBF council member Piyush Gupta said many Singapore firms have been studying Eastern Europe for opportunities.
"Belarus registered an average of 8 per cent growth for 10 years up to 2008," he said.
"As a result of the government's commitment to regulatory changes and reforms to the investment framework, foreign direct investment increased 54 per cent to US$14.3 billion in 2012."
The sum is equivalent to S$17.7billion.
Close to 80 Singapore company representatives and Belarusian business delegates attended the forum held at the York Hotel.
At the same event, the first vice-prime minister of Belarus, Mr Vladimir Semashko, also pointed to potential opportunities for tie-ups between Singapore and Belarus, particularly in industrial, agricultural, petrochemical and science and educational projects.
He said his country operates six free economic zones that grant preferential tax and Customs legislation for companies that operate within those spaces.
Major multinationals such as Microsoft, Nokia and HTC have invested in Belarus.
Mr Semashko said he hoped to see the arrival of big players from Singapore too.
Figures from trade agency International Enterprise Singapore put total bilateral trade in 2012 at $61.6 million.
Seven memoranda of understanding (MOUs) and one contract were signed yesterday, paving the way for greater trade and business cooperation between Singapore and Belarus.
Singapore-based firm Jurong Consultants, which provides development consulting services to clients worldwide, was one of the companies that signed an MOU.
Ms Mao Whey Ying, president of Jurong Consultants, said: "We see this as a good opportunity for future collaboration and participation in projects in Eastern Europe."