Interview: Teo Chee Hean

How would you characterise Qatar-Singapore ties?

TEO CHEE HEAN: As small countries, Qatar and Singapore share a common interest in establishing partnerships that extend beyond our respective regions. Singapore has limited natural resources, so its model of development focuses on good governance and sound economic planning. Qatar, on the other hand, is blessed with energy resources. We share many similarities with what Qatar is striving to achieve, especially in terms of economic diversification, building competitive infrastructure and developing itself as a knowledge hub.

To steer the strategic relationship between the two countries, the Heir Apparent Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and I co-chair the annual Qatar-Singapore High-Level Joint Committee (HLJC). The HLJC provides leadership guidance to promote bilateral cooperation. Via the HLJC, more than 20 agreements have been reached spanning areas as diverse as the environment, information and communications technology (ICT), culture, labour, health and urban planning.

Qatar is Singapore’s third-largest trading partner in the Middle East, with bilateral trade in 2011 totalling $7.7bn. Singapore is also Qatar’s fourth-largest export market. Major Singaporean companies, such as Keppel Corporation and CrimsonLogic, have secured more than $4bn worth of projects in Qatar. At the same time, major Qatari companies, such as Qtel and Qatar National Bank, have enhanced their presence in Singapore. We welcome Qatari companies to use Singapore as a base to reach out to the wider Asian market.

Given the level of infrastructure development in Qatar, can we say such opportunities offer more attractive prospects for Singaporean companies?

TEO: Singaporean companies are very keen on participating in the preparations for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, especially in areas where Qatar feels their expertise is relevant. Our companies have a number of strengths, particularly in transport and logistics, environmental solutions, precision engineering and infrastructure services, and they can play a role in various project phases. The competition for these projects is naturally very stiff, but I am optimistic that business linkages between Singapore and Qatar will continue to grow in a sustainable manner.

What more can be done at the government level to encourage stronger bilateral ties?

TEO: The HLJC has served as a useful platform for bilateral engagement and to monitor the implementation of the agreements signed in a timely manner. I look forward to deepening cooperation, particularly in the fields of security, environment, ICT and urban planning, which are areas of common interest for both countries.

We should redouble our efforts in facilitating business exchanges. Singapore and Qatar can serve as gateways for each other’s companies into our respective regions. We can help Qatari companies keen to invest in Asia seek out opportunities and partners through business matching and promoting mutual understanding of investment opportunities.

There is also much scope for strengthening cultural ties. Doha has a thriving arts scene. Cosmopolitan cities like Singapore and Doha cannot be complete without vibrant cultural landscapes. We should encourage respective cultural institutions to look at artistic collaboration and exchanges as well as joint research.

In your opinion, what are the prospects for increased cooperation between ASEAN and the GCC?

TEO: I am optimistic about the future of ASEAN-GCC relations and further cooperation. We have both an historical and maritime connection. In the past, traders from the Arabian Peninsula have travelled to South-east Asia and established thriving businesses there.

The GCC is our seventh-largest trading partner. Furthermore, the GCC-Singapore free trade agreement (GSFTA), signed in 2008, is a key pillar in the establishment of closer economic engagement, which – when fully ratified – will be of great benefit both parties.