PM hopes for Russia trade boost from proposed FTA

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mrs Lee, (2nd from right) Ms Lim Kheng Hua (Singapore Ambassador to Russia), (3rd from right) Ho Meng Kit(CEO, SBF) at a lunch meeting with the Singapore Business Federation delegates at Four Seasons Hotel Moscow, on Tues 17 May 2016 during a bilateral working visit to Moscow.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Trade between Singapore and Russia is below what it should be, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is looking to boost it with the proposed free-trade agreement (FTA) between the Republic and the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Russia is a member.

Similarly, there is "a lot more potential for growth" between Russia and ASEAN countries, he added.

Mr Lee made the comments in a wide-ranging interview with Russian news Tass at the Istana, ahead of his first working visit to the country.

He will meet government officials in Moscow till tomorrow, and will attend the ASEAN-Russia Commemorative Summit tomorrow and on Friday in Sochi city along the Black Sea coast.

Mr Lee also disclosed there are advanced plans to build a Russian Cultural Centre in Singapore.

"We have found a site and it is a good location" he said.

"I look forward to the day when we see a Russian Orthodox onion-dome appearing in Singapore," he added, referring to the architecture of Russian churches.

But boosting trade appears paramount.

Mr Lee noted the high level Russia-Singapore Inter-Governmental Commission was set up in 2009 to beef up co-operation in areas such as trade, investment and education.

"There is active participation on both sides - government, as well as business. But our trade is not in proportion to the potential," he said.

Though bilateral trade has about quadrupled in the last 10 years, Russia is still "just our 21st largest trading partner", he added.

In the same way, he said, "the economic ties between ASEAN countries and Russia have been growing but (it is not) commensurate with the importance of Russia in the world. This is gradually changing", he said.

The proposed FTA between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union will boost Russia's ties with individual ASEAN countries, which will "strengthen the ties between Russia and South-east Asia, and the ASEAN region as a whole", he added.

Mr Lee's agenda includes meeting Russian businessmen and executives to "get them interested in Singapore a bit".

The last Singapore prime minister to go on such a mission to the Russian Federation was the late Lee Kuan Yew in 1990.

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