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Keynote Address by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance at the Confederation of Indian Industry Annual Lecture on 20 August 2018, 6.30pm at the Four Seasons Hotel, Singapore

20 Aug 2018
Mr Rakesh Bharti Mittal 
President of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)

Mr Chandrajit Banerjee
Director General, CII

Mr Jawed Ashraf
High Commissioner of India to Singapore

Ambassador Gopinath Pillai


Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen


1. A very good evening to all of you. Let me begin by offering my deep appreciation to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) for inviting me, and my heartiest congratulations on your milestone achievement. I am very honoured to be invited to join you in this Silver Jubilee and also to launch this inaugural lecture. 

2. I am very happy to see so many old friends, and also to see many new friends. When we were coming in, we talked about how, in Singapore’s 53 years of history, the CII has been involved with us for over 25 years, and that is almost 50 percent. We were just celebrating this and we talked about what would Singapore be like when we celebrate a hundred years of our independence. And, if we continue this relationship with CII for the next 47 years, then the CII’s involvement in Singapore will be 72% of our history. India is a very, very old civilisation – thousands of years – so if I begin to extrapolate a little further and said in a thousand years, then CII’s involvement with Singapore will be almost 100%. So let’s work towards that.

CII in Singapore and the Region 

3. CII has been instrumental to the growth of Singapore-India business relations over the past 25 years. CII has played an early and important role in helping Singaporean businesses understand the Indian operating landscape, act as bridge facilitating investments and partnerships between our borders. 

i. In 1994, CII established its South East Asia Regional Office in Singapore. The Office continues to serve as a base for CII to work closely with our agencies and companies, and engage other countries in the region. 

ii. Since 1993, the CII Core Group has visited Singapore every year, meeting with our political leadership and businesses to exchange views on developments and opportunities in India and Southeast Asia. Key figures such as former-CII Chief Mentor Mr Tarun Das and Emeritus Senior Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong drove the Singapore-India business partnership through personal affinity and a strong conviction in the tremendous potential of collaboration. I am very glad to see that both will be recognised today for their contributions.

4. Today, the “India fever” sparked by ESM following ESM’s first official visit to India in 1994 is flourishing. And your presence today testifies to that.

i. Singapore is India’s second largest investor, with cumulative FDI from 2000 to 2016 amounting to S$36.3 billion. Reciprocally, with more than 7,000 registered companies, India forms the largest foreign corporate contingent in Singapore. 

5. Now, as we look at the past, present, and future of Singapore-India relations, I would like to talk about bridges and gateways. For the CII and Singapore, these terms are particularly relevant as they mean access and connectivity. 

Singapore as a Gateway for India

6. Singapore and India have exchanged goods, languages, and cultures for more than a millennium. 

i. The Straits of Malacca was at the midpoint of the most direct shipping route between the Persian Gulf and China. As a result, Singapore was a literal gateway between these two empires.

7. Singapore has retained our historical role by providing an entry point and springboard for Indian companies into ASEAN and East Asia. 

i. In 2005, the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) came into effect. CECA was India’s first ever comprehensive economic pact, and the first between Singapore and a South Asian country. CECA created a strong base for Indian companies in ASEAN while boosting Singapore’s investment in India.

ii. CECA facilitated investments by promoting and protecting investments from both countries, and providing increased market access for both Singaporean and Indian companies, who were quick to capitalise on new opportunities.

iii. Since 2005, bilateral trade grew from S$16.6 billion to S$25.2 billion in 2017. 

8. CECA shows the strong commitment and goodwill both sides share. I remember shuttling between India and Singapore through the 13 rounds of negotiations with my 30-member team. In fact, I had two Chief Negotiators on the Indian side because one of them retired halfway through our negotiations and we still could not finish it. He went on to head the projects of India in the EU. So, I dealt with two Common Secretaries during the period. At the end of the 13 rounds, I can tell you that I was so exhausted, and we made so many friends among our colleagues.

i. I am happy to see that we have very constructive discussions over very complicated issues with our friends in India, and the hard work that we put in has led to economic benefits for both sides. I am very happy to see that the Second Review of the CECA was concluded during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to Singapore this year, and the Third Review is on the horizon.

A Connected Region 

9. As it turns out, CECA was only the first bridge towards an integrated regional architecture. 

i. CECA paved the way for other regional trade agreements such as the ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which was signed in 2009. 

10. Today, we are working towards the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which we hope to conclude by the end of this year. And as the High Commissioner earlier reminded us, that this is not just an economic agreement, that there are also very important dimensions to this in terms of India’s engagement with the region, and therefore it has got very strategic elements as well. Now through agreements like CECA and the RCEP, India can play a very significant role in our region. 

i. The RCEP will integrate all the key markets in our region – ASEAN, India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand – into a single economic area. This is half the world’s population, approximately 30 percent of global trade output, and a fifth of global foreign direct investment inflows. And in fact, if you were to project further, with half of the world’s population, I think the fact that it only accounts for thirty percent of global trade flows and a fifth of global direct investment, I think that figure can only grow.

ii. I hope the RCEP will be a good catalyst for an even broader commitment to a rules-based, multi-lateral trading system, and that we will all continue working towards the successful completion of the Doha Round.

11. An economically integrated region would allow us to realise our collective growth potential. And earlier on, we heard from the President who talked about the growth potential, how far India has grown.

i. In fact, in 2019, India is expected to grow by 7.8 percent while ASEAN is expected to grow by 5.3 percent. ASEAN and India share similar advantages, such as a relatively young population, a growing middle class, and rapid urbanisation. 

ii. By working together, we can leverage on a common growth engine.

New Areas 

12. These past 25 years have been about establishing a solid foundation for Singapore-India economic relations. Let me thank CII for having done an excellent job in building this bridge. Now, I believe that the next 25 years are about cultivating a thriving ecosystem which this bridge can be a very important part of.

13. I would like to suggest three possible areas where Singapore and India can do more, particular areas that CII, an old friend of Singapore’s, can continue to play a bridging role. 

14. First, besides linking up established businesses, we can do more to support our start-ups and build an innovation corridor between Singapore and India. 

i. Presenting the Budget this year, I spoke of the need for pervasive innovation, and the need for a healthy, vibrant ecosystem to nurture the spirit of entrepreneurship and the spirit of collaboration. 

ii. We should work to enhance partnerships between entrepreneurs at different stages in their development. 

iii. Programmes such as the India Ready Talent Programme, involving CII and universities in Singapore, are good starting points. The programme allows students in Singapore to tap on the CII’s network of over 8,000 members for internship opportunities in India. 

iv. In the long term, we hope to create a network of innovation and collaboration. I hope CII and Singapore agencies and organisations can work closely together on this effort. One of the programmes which I also announced in the Budget is to build a whole network of Global Innovation Alliances, and I hope that we can establish this. 

15. Second, besides linking up industry leaders and titans, we should look further afield to the next generation of business leaders in India. 

i. Businesses are changing all the time. The great old houses of Indian commerce have diversified into new industries such as FinTech and digital solutions.

ii. New industries and corporate clusters would naturally require new leaders and younger generations of family members to step up to the plate.

iii. I am glad to see that the composition of the CII Core Group is constantly changing to include new and emerging business leaders. Amongst you tonight are good examples of next-generation business leaders who are innovating in different fields. Some of you are even branching out into new businesses, searching out or creating new opportunities. I am very happy to see this entrepreneurial spirit is so strong among all of you.

iv. I hope that you will find Singapore to be a good environment, and businesses and business leaders here to be great partners, as you continue to push the envelope with your businesses, and to create value in our region.

v. Going forward, I invite the CII to connect India’s new generation of business leaders with Singapore partners, to look for new opportunities to network, and foster greater innovation.

16. Third, Singapore and India should use technological developments to create more business-to-business and people-to-people linkages. Earlier on, we heard from President Mittal as well as High Commissioner about people-to-people linkages, tourism, and so on. I cannot agree with you more. If we want to do that, I think we have to expand the linkages even more, especially in air services. 

i. So we should use technological developments to create more business-to-business and people-to-people linkages, find new ways to connect businesses, through online and new data-driven platforms. And earlier, High Commissioner spoke about the digital economy. Indeed, India is a powerhouse in this area. And I hope that we can explore opportunities together. Not just industry 4.0, but what the Japanese called Society 5.0 to look at how digital economy and technology in general can help us not only to build a more competitive economy, but also a better society. And I should also share that when Mr Arun Jaitley was in Singapore recently, I spoke to him about what a great opportunity, because to be able to get the GST done is really quite a feat, and it now simplifies the administration significantly. And I think the potential for growth by unleashing the growth of GST is very significant. 


17. Thank you all for your attention tonight. It has been a pleasure to talk about the good work we have been able to do together, as well as to look forward to the opportunities ahead.

i. I started tonight by noting that Singapore is a gateway for India, and the role the CII has played as a bridge connecting us.

ii. We share the positive, beneficial experience of CECA and the advantages it has brought to our businesses. And we share the hope for a broader agreement towards a rules-based, multi-lateral trading system.

iii. I offered three suggestions of how we can cooperate further – do more to support our start-ups and build an innovation corridor; link up the next generation of business leaders; create more business-to-business and people-to-people linkages – I hope you will find these areas exciting and promising. 

18. I am confident that the CII will continue to play an important role in bridging Singapore and India businesses – in the next quarter century, and beyond. As the world undergoes the fourth Industrial Revolution and other fundamental changes, it is all the more important to work together to realise our collective potential and create good opportunities for our people and our businesses. 

19. Thank you very much.