Singapore engages the Middle East in diverse areas ranging from economic cooperation to exchanges in healthcare, civil service practices, culture and the environment.
Economic Links and Cooperation
Our intensified political exchanges have helped to promote Singapore's economic ties with the Middle East. Singapore companies, including SembCorp, Keppel and Hyflux, have been active in a broad spectrum of sectors, including infrastructure, oil and gas, environmental technologies, logistics, tourism and retail. Trade between Singapore and the Middle East has also grown substantially in recent years, with total trade volume in 2011 reaching S$65.5 billion. The Middle East on aggregate is currently Singapore's 6th largest trading partner.
The signing of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (GSFTA) on 15 December 2008 was an important milestone as Singapore is the first country to conclude an FTA with the GCC. As of 2010, the GCC was collectively Singapore's 9th largest trading partner. The GSFTA will grant tariff-free access for about 99% of Singapore's domestic exports to the region, while all GCC goods entering into Singapore will be granted tariff-free access. The GSFTA will also encourage a greater recognition of Singapore MUIS Halal standards in the six GCC countries. The GSFTA will come into force after it is ratified by all the GCC countries.
Elsewhere in the region, in recognition of Israel's strength in the high-tech sector, the Singapore Israel Industrial Research & Development Foundation has been facilitating and supporting joint industrial R&D projects between companies from both countries.
Through the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) and the work of Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE), Singapore has shared our own development experience with the Middle Eastern countries. Singapore's various ministries, statutory boards and private organisations also cooperate with our Middle East counterparts over a wide range of issues. Joint initiatives include our cooperation with Saudi Arabia on dengue control measures in Jeddah in 2006, DBS' joint venture with a Bahrain-led GCC consortium to establish the Islamic Bank of Asia (IBA) in 2007, as well as the Strategic Leadership Programme that our Civil Service College (CSC) organised for Kuwaiti public sector leaders in 2010 and 2011. Singapore launched an enhanced technical assistance package for the Palestinian National Authority in February 2013. Valued at S$5 million, the package includes priority placements in SCP courses, post-graduate scholarships, as well as study visits and courses customised to meet the specific needs of the Palestinian National Authority.
Academic Engagement and Cooperation
Singapore's schools and tertiary institutions are actively engaged with the Middle East, with an increasing variety of programmes and opportunities available for students to obtain a better appreciation and understanding of the region. Study trips to the Middle East are organized as part of the National University of Singapore (NUS)'s STEER programme (Study Trips for Engagement and Enrichment) and Singapore Management University's SMU Business Study Mission. NUS has a successful internship programme in Israel under its NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) initiative which provides postgraduates and undergraduates the opportunity to experience Israel’s unique entrepreneurship culture and dynamic environment of business start-ups. Our universities also take in students from Saudi Arabia under the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme. Meanwhile, A*STAR, NUS and NTU have been taking in graduate students from Iran under the Singapore International Graduate Award (SINGA) since 2007. Programmes at the secondary school level such as the Raffles Institution Middle East Programme (RMEP) also help to generate greater awareness of the Middle East. In addition, MFA provides our students opportunities to interact with incoming Middle East delegations and attend cultural events such as the Oman Culture Week and the Arrival of the Jewel of Muscat.
In recognition of the significant role that the Middle East plays, not only in Singapore but in the rest of the world, NUS set up the Middle East Institute (MEI) in 2007 to promote a deeper understanding of the Middle East in Singapore. MFA collaborates with MEI to run the Middle East Eminent Persons Programme (MEEPP), which invites distinguished personalities from the Middle East to Singapore in order to promote understanding and cooperation.
Jewel of Muscat – In 1998, a sunken ship containing valuable artifacts of both Arab and Chinese origin was discovered in Southeast Asian waters. Marine archaeologists identified the find as an Arabian sailing vessel (dhow) from the 9th Century and hailed it as proof of the ancient trading links between China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. This 9th century Arab dhow became the inspiration behind The Jewel of Muscat project. Using 9th century shipbuilding methods, the Sultanate of Oman constructed a modern-day replica of the dhow and sailed it halfway across the world to present it as a gift to the people of Singapore. The dhow was received on 3 July 2010 by then-President S R Nathan and witnessed by His Highness Sayyid Harib bin Thuwainy Al Said, a first cousin of Sultan Qaboos and His Majesty's Representative. The Jewel's final home was unveiled on 15 October 2011 at the official opening of the Maritime Experiential Museum and Aquarium by His Excellency Sayyid Badr bin Hamad Al Busaidi, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Oman, as well as ESM Goh Chok Tong. The Jewel of Muscat display stands as testament to the historical and modern ties that Singapore and Oman share, and is expected to draw up to a million visitors a year.
Muscat Street Project - The idea of rejuvenating the architecture of Muscat Street along Omani lines was first mooted by the former Head of Muscat Municipality, Abdulla Abbas, in April 2007. Both Singapore and Oman recognised the opportunity to commemorate the historical links between both countries and initiated the project in March 2009, when then-President S R Nathan signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) during his state visit to Oman. URA and Muscat Municipality have since collaborated on the revamped design in consultation with the relevant stakeholders, agencies and the public. Besides the unique landscaping and paving, as well as the addition of Omani-style archways at both ends of Muscat Street, Oman's contributions will also be featured in the form of street furniture and stone murals with mosaic artwork along the length of the Street. The iconic project highlights the close links shared between Oman and Singapore. The rejuvenated Muscat Street was re-opened in a ceremony on 8 November 2012. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam and Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sayyid Badr Bin Hamad Al Busaidi presided over the ceremony, which entailed cultural shows highlighting the heritage of Oman and the historic status of the Kampong Glam area. Visitors will soon be able to access information on the historical ties between Oman and Singapore and the Jewel of Muscat via the scanning of QR codes placed in various locations along Muscat Street.