SINGAPORE and South Korea on Thursday signed a raft of partnerships aimed at strengthening bilateral trade and investment, as well as promoting collaborations between companies and government agencies of the two countries.
Enterprise Singapore inked two memoranda of understanding with Korean bodies, with the signing witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is on a three-day state visit to Singapore.
The two leaders also witnessed the exchange of three other MOUs between Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and its counterpart Korean agencies: The first was for Free and Open Trade; the second, for Technological Cooperation in Response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the last, for Cooperation in the Field of Smart Grids.
One highlight of the MOU on free and open trade is for an implementation review of a Korea-Singapore Free Trade Agreement to be undertaken within six months.
Under the MOU on tech cooperation, cooperation will be pursued in areas such as biotech, artificial intelligence and the industrial Internet of Things; the Korea Institute for Advancement of Technology and Singapore's A*Star will lead this effort.
In the MOU on smart grids, cooperation in R&D, training and exchanges will be undertaken in areas such as smart grids and energy security.
Of the two MOUs signed by Enterprise Singapore, the first one - signed with South Korea's Ministry of SMEs & Startups (MSS) - will establish "landing pads" in Singapore and South Korea. These spaces will provide SMEs and startups from the other country the infrastructure and network to establish themselves.
The first such space will be set up by MSS in Singapore by year's end, with support from Enterprise Singapore.
There are also plans for the sharing of information and networks between the venture capital ecosystems for South Korea and Singapore, and support for the activities of venture funds co-created by private and government investment vehicles.
The second agreement, between Enterprise Singapore and Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), aims to boost market access and investment opportunities for companies in the two countries.
The key focus sectors under this partnership are smart city, infrastructure development, lifestyle and consumer, e-commerce and liquefied natural gas (LNG).
KOTRA will be a one-stop agency for Singapore firms investing and expanding into Korea. It will also partner Enterprise Singapore to hold business-matching sessions between enterprises from both sides, and encourage them to work on projects with companies from other countries.
Bilateral trade between the two countries rose 4.3 per cent to hit S$45.4 billion in 2017, making South Korea Singapore's ninth-largest trading partner and Singapore, South Korea's 10th largest. In Asean, Singapore is South Korea's second-largest trading partner after Vietnam.
There are over 50 Singapore companies in South Korea or partnering Korean counterparts; in a statement, Enterprise Singapore noted the growing investment interest among Singapore companies there, particularly in real estate, manufacturing, electronics and information and communications technology (ICT).
At a Singapore-Korea business forum hosted by the Singapore Business Federation and the Korea International Trade Association later on Thursday, Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S Iswaran said the MOUs represented the move by the two countries "to forge broader and deeper economic collaboration".
Referring to the MOU on Free and Open Trade, he said: "The MOU is a positive and important signal of our mutual commitment towards free trade, especially in the context of rising global protectionism."
He expressed hope that through the initiatives in these MOUs, more Singaporean and Korean companies can forge closer partnerships in joint R&D and commercialisation of technologies.
As South Korean firms look to expand into the region, Mr Iswaran said Singapore companies could play a key role.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, speaking in Korean, told the forum that the MOUs are the outcome of an agreement between him and Prime Minister Lee "to notch up" Singapore-South Korea ties and cooperation. The MOUs will provide "the future growth engines" in the fourth industrial revolution.
Indicating that "a free and fair trade order must be maintained", the South Korean leader called on Singapore to join South Korea to fight protectionism. He said the two sides have to move fast to review their free-trade pact and step up trade and investment flows.
- With additional reporting by Chuang Peck Ming