Ethiopia has been one of Singapore’s earliest partners in Sub-Saharan Africa
His Excellency Demissie Shito, State Minister of Urban Development and Housing; Distinguished Guests; Members of the Singapore and Ethiopian Business Community; Ladies and Gentlemen;
2. I am delighted to be here today for the Singapore-Ethiopia Business Forum. I would first like to thank the Singapore Business Federation for their hard work in putting together this event. I also wish to acknowledge my fellow Singaporeans who have travelled a long distance from home to Addis Ababa as part of the Business Mission.
3. I must confess that I am still learning about Africa. This is a vast continent, with 54 different countries, each with its own diverse history and culture, but also with huge potential, many opportunities, and a sense of enterprise.
4. I recently had the pleasure of meeting 10 Ministers from all across Africa, including Ethiopia, who were in Singapore for a Visit programme. After spending two days with the Ministers, it only reinforced in my mind the potential and opportunities that Africa holds.
5. Africa is a rising force within the global economy. Despite a global economic decline, Africa remains among the world’s fastest growing regions, with an average annual growth of about 5 percent over the last decade. Six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa. The population of over a billion is expected to double to about 2.5 billion by 2050. Any well-informed businessperson could tell you today that Africa is poised for a major breakthrough.
6. In recent years, trade between Asia and Africa has increased by leaps and bounds. By 2020, trade volume between our regions is expected to reach more than US$1.5 trillion.
7. Against this backdrop, Singapore’s trade with Africa has grown at a rate of close to 12 percent over the past five years, reaching US$8.5 billion in 2015. Investments by Singapore companies in Africa have reached US$16.2 billion to date. Today, there are some 60 Singapore companies operating across the continent.
8. In August 2016, we held the 4th Africa Singapore Business Forum, which since 2010 has brought together more than 2,000 business and government leaders from over 30 countries to develop partnerships and opportunities between our dynamic regions. The message is clear – Singapore firms are keen to penetrate this vast market and tap on the continent’s vast resources.
9. The Singapore Business Federation has led the way for our companies to seek new ventures in Africa. Indeed, this is SBF’s 26th Business Mission to Africa in the last decade.
10. We have also opened trade offices in Accra, Ghana, and Johannesburg, South Africa as more Singaporeans are looking to Africa for trade and investments. We recently announced that in 2017, Singapore will open its third trade office in Sub-Saharan Africa, in Nairobi, Kenya, to serve as a regional base for Singapore companies venturing into East Africa.
11. As the continent continues to prosper and develop, I am confident that linkages between Singapore and Sub-Saharan Africa, and specifically promising economies such as Ethiopia, will continue to grow and flourish.
Singapore’s Relations with Ethiopia
12. Ethiopia has been one of Singapore’s earliest partners in Sub-Saharan Africa. We enjoy excellent political links and have been regular visitors to each other’s countries. Economic links, while less substantive, have been increasing steadily. In 2015, trade between Singapore and Ethiopia amounted to US$24 million, an increase of over 17 percent from the previous year.
Just as Ethiopia serves as a major metropolis and hub in the Horn of Africa, so too can Singapore serve as a springboard for Ethiopian companies looking to venture into Asia
13. In all honesty, the geographical distance between Singapore and Ethiopia has for a long time kept our two economies apart and contributed to our unfamiliarity with each other.
14. However, I am pleased to note that a handful of Singapore companies have taken the first step to base their operations in Ethiopia. We also have here today in the Business Mission, Singapore companies specialising in hospitality, healthcare, education services, agriculture commodities and trade, as well as manufacturing. There are good reasons why our companies are interested in Ethiopia.
15. With a population of close to 100 million, the domestic market in Ethiopia is among the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ethiopia is also among the fastest growing economies in the world. Its stability, strategic location, fast pace of infrastructural development, as well as young and educated labour force, have made it an attractive destination for business and investments. Ethiopia’s robust industrialisation policies and slew of tax incentives for foreign investors have put in on track to be a major industrial centre in Africa.
16. Nevertheless, there is more that our governments can do to encourage the two-way flow of business and investments, and create a positive environment for growth.
17. In this respect, I am pleased to note that an Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement between Singapore and Ethiopia was recently signed at the Africa Singapore Business Forum by Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs His Excellency Tedros Adhanom and Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry Mr S Iswaran.
18. We could also make travel between Singapore and Ethiopia more convenient, by abolishing visa requirements for Singapore passport holders and increasing air connectivity.
19. I mentioned Ethiopia’s strategic location earlier as a reason why companies are choosing to base their operations here. Despite being landlocked, Addis Ababa is among the most well-connected cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, in no small part due to the success and growth of Ethiopian Airlines, which I understand is planning to resume direct flights to Singapore in the near future. We look forward to the resumption of direct flights as this will only bolster trade, investments and tourism flows.
Singapore as a Hub for Ethiopian Companies
20. Just as Ethiopia serves as a major metropolis and hub in the Horn of Africa, so too can Singapore serve as a springboard for Ethiopian companies looking to venture into Asia. Singapore is a small island with no natural resources.
21. Fortunately, however, we are strategically located along the Straits of Malacca, one of the world’s major shipping lanes, which has given us the opportunity to leverage on our geographical advantage and carve a niche for ourselves in the global trade system. Today, Singapore is the world’s busiest transhipment hub, a major aviation hub, and international finance centre, as well as a key regional oil-refining hub.
22. In addition, Singapore is part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has a combined GDP of about US$2 trillion and population of more than 600 million.
23. Singapore has also actively sought to develop itself as an investment friendly destination through pro-business policies and business practices. In doing so, we have been rated by the World Bank as one of the easiest places in the world to do business, and have successfully attracted numerous multinational companies who have set up offices in Singapore.
24. The experience of the companies here today should inspire and motivate other Singapore companies to look to Ethiopia as a destination for business and investment, and even for tourism and leisure.
25. I hope today’s forum will spark discussion on business strategies that will enable companies, be it multinational giants or SMEs, to set up profitable and sustainable commercial ventures in various parts of Africa, including Ethiopia.
26. On that note, I wish this forum every success, and to all of you, a productive day ahead.