Ladies and Gentlemen
1 Welcome to the 4th Singapore-Sub-Saharan Africa High-Level Ministerial Exchange Visit, or AHLMEV.
2 The AHLMEV was first convened in 2014 to foster friendship and closer dialogue with our friends from Sub-Saharan Africa. A total of 29 Ministers and Deputy Ministers participated in the first three iterations of the AHLMEVs, and we are excited to resume it after a pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme for this year’s AHLMEV is “Singapore and Africa: Partners in Digitalisation and Sustainability”. We have carefully curated a programme under this theme for both sides to exchange views on our respective development priorities and experiences, as well as to explore potential cooperation. I am pleased to note that we have eight Ministers and Deputy Ministers from Botswana, Ghana, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Uganda. Thank you for making time in your busy schedules to be with us, and I hope that you will find the programme meaningful.
3 Africa is a continent with much promise. It is rapidly urbanising at an average annual rate of 3.2%, and has a population of more than 1 billion, 70% of whom are under the age of 30. Economic integration efforts through the African Continental Free Trade Area will only supercharge the region’s growth. Southeast Asia is also a large, young, fast growing, urbanising, and digitalising region. ASEAN is expected to grow at a rate of 4.6% this year, above the global average of 3.1%. ASEAN’s combined GDP is at US$ 3 trillion and is set to double within the next two decades. If we succeed, then ASEAN as a whole will become the fourth largest economy in the world. We are also pursuing opportunities in forward-looking areas such as the digital and green economies.
4 However, ASEAN’s trade in goods with Africa is only about 2.2% of its total trade with the world. There is much untapped potential. Our economies, companies, and investors must look further afield for opportunities. I am encouraged to hear that many companies from both regions are participating in the Africa Singapore Business Forum, which is taking place concurrently with the AHLMEV. At the government level, we can support businesses by creating a business-friendly environment comprising more physical, economic, financial, and digital linkages between both sides. For instance, we could negotiate more economic agreements including Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements and Bilateral Investment Treaties. There is also a need to increase connectivity between our two regions. Currently, there are few direct flights between Singapore and Sub-Saharan Africa, and these are mainly from Johannesburg and Addis Ababa. It is important to encourage more air connectivity both to unlock our economic potential and to spur people-to-people linkages.
5 Beyond economic ties, our political exchanges are also important. In the past decade, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore has made over 43 high-level visits to Sub-Saharan African countries. I fondly recall my visits to Botswana, Ethiopia, Namibia, and South Africa. Post-COVID-19, Prime Minister Lee made his first Official Visit to Rwanda last year, and South Africa and Kenya this year. Rwandan President Paul Kagame and South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor visited Singapore last year too. These visits build upon countless other high-level exchanges, study visits, and trade missions between both sides. We must continue to build on this momentum, both at the regional and bilateral levels.
6 A key pillar to our cooperation with many Sub-Saharan Africa countries is in the technical and skills domain. Over 13,000 African officials have participated in capacity-building programmes under the Singapore Cooperation Programme, or SCP. This spans areas from education to sustainable development, urban planning, and logistics. We certainly have a shared belief in the importance of building human capital. To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the SCP last year, Prime Minister Lee launched the Singapore-Africa Partnership Package, or SAPP. This offers African officials customised training programmes, priority placement in SCP courses, and postgraduate scholarships in Singapore universities. We are honoured to have a long history of exchanging experiences and best practices with you. We encourage your countries to continue making use of the SCP and SAPP for mutual benefit.
7 We live in challenging times. The current global situation, both strategic and economic, is graver than what we have experienced for a very long time. It is tempting for countries to turn inwards, and away from mutual trust and respect. But there is much that we can do together – and much that we must do together – to address our shared challenges, grow our economies, and uplift the lives of our citizens. Singapore is happy that our ties with our African friends have remained steadfast. We look forward to advancing these partnerships in the years to come.
8 Thank you for being here. Thank you for joining us, and I look forward to exchanging views with each of you over lunch.
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