Cover image via The Straits Times

Singapore is looking at ways to expand bilateral cooperation with Indonesia, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as he announced that both countries have agreed to set up an Indonesia-Singapore Business Council yesterday.

Both countries are also looking to collaborate further in tourism, venture into new sectors such as the digital economy, as well as explore areas beyond Jakarta and the Batam-Bintan-Karimun special economic zones.

“Because our economies are closely intertwined, if Indonesia does well, so too will Singapore,” said Mr Lee after meeting President Joko Widodo at their first Leaders’ Retreat in Indonesia yesterday.

“Our firms are keen to invest in Indonesia and we encourage them to do more,” he added.

The business council will help deepen the two countries’ economic relationship at business-to-business levels, said Mr Lee.

While the new body will be co-chaired by Singapore’s Economic Development Board and the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board, he expects businesses to take the lead. Both countries had signed an agreement during the retreat to collaborate on the cruise segment of tourism. Mr Lee said that projects such as this have to be pushed by the private sector.

“It’s the government that provides the framework, but the private sector must make them work and assess where it is viable, where it is attractive, what’s the best way to proceed with it,” he added.

“So we think that the best way to do that is for our business people to get together and meet one another regularly; and a business council, I think, is well justified because we have this format with quite a number of our other partners but we have not had one with Indonesia yet. So I think it is timely.”

Besides increasing tourism traffic between the two countries with more air and sea links, new agreements inked include plans to work together to boost activities in the Mice (meetings, incentive travel, conventions and exhibitions) segments as well as a smart city development by International Enterprise Singapore in Makassar, the provincial capital of South Sulawesi.

IE Singapore assistant chief executive Tan Soon Kim said the trade agency has identified Makassar city as a favourable place for Singapore businesses. It also “hopes to demonstrate Singapore’s capacity to contribute to Indonesia’s economic and social development beyond Java and the Riau Islands, which are the traditional regions for Singapore investments”.

Mr Lee noted that despite Singapore’s small size, the city state has been consistently among the top investors in Indonesia. “Recently we have gone beyond these areas to look at the non-traditional areas like Central Java,” he said.

He added that the Kendal Industrial Estate (KIK), where he and Mr Joko launched Park by the Bay, a 2,700ha township development by Sembcorp Development and Indonesian developer Jababeka, reflected a Singapore company’s confidence in Indonesia.

“I’m confident that under President Joko Widodo’s leadership, our bilateral friendship will continue to flourish and there will be many more win-win projects like KIK to come,” he added.

Mr Joko yesterday said that the joint venture in Kendal will be “a new icon” for Indonesia-Singapore economic cooperation.

Both leaders also announced that Singapore and Indonesia will celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year.

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