SINGAPORE - Singapore and Turkey have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on counter-terrorism and begun work on a bilateral free trade agreement. The signing yesterday was witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was on a two-day visit to Singapore, the first by a Turkish prime minister in 18 years.
In his remarks after the signing, Mr Lee said: "Turkey is keen to engage Asia, just as Singapore is keen to strengthen ties in Europe, and Singapore and Turkey can be gateways to our respective regions for the other party."
Responding, Mr Erdogan said: "I do believe we can forge useful alliance and partnerships with Singapore especially when it comes to the widescale infrastructure and energy investments going on in Turkey."
Yesterday, the two countries agreed to enhance cooperation in three key areas: economic, financial and counter-terrorism.
On the economic front, Mr Erdogan brought with him a delegation of 80 businessmen to attend the third Turkey-Singapore Business Forum, also held yesterday.
Bilateral trade in 2012 stood at $1.46 billion, but Mr Erdogan expressed confidence that it can grow to between $3.8 billion and $6.3 billion.
It should be boosted by a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA), work on which has begun.
Beyond the FTA, the two leaders also discussed enhancing air links between the two countries.
On financial cooperation, they agreed to start a regular dialogue between their finance ministries on issues such as macroeconomic development, multilateral cooperation and long-term financing.
Mr Erdogan extended an invitation to Mr Lee and his wife, Ms Ho Ching, to visit Turkey. Mr Lee accepted immediately.
Mr Erdogan's trip follows an exchange of visits between their deputies, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan and Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, in 2012.
That year also marked the opening of economic agency IE Singapore's overseas centre in Istanbul in May and the Singapore embassy in Ankara in July.
After the signing, Mr Lee hosted Mr Erdogan to an official lunch. In the morning, the Turkish leader called on President Tony Tan Keng Yam. He met the Speaker of Parliament, Madam Halimah Yacob, in the afternoon.
Mr Erdogan also visited the National Orchid Garden, where an antelope dendrobium hybrid orchid was named after him and his wife, Emine. He later received a briefing on the Singapore port at PSA Singapore.
Unusually for a visiting leader, Mr Erdogan paid a visit to the grave of the first Consul-General of the Ottoman Empire to Singapore, Ahmet Ataullah Efendi, at Telok Blangah Cemetery. He was sent to Singapore in 1901 and died in 1903.