TBY talks to Koh Poh Koon, Singapore's Minister of State for Trade and Industry, on the similarities between the two nations, increasing economic relations, and the role of Singapore tech companies in Oman.

Koh Poh Koon
Koh Poh Koon was elected as a Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC on September 11, 2015 and appointed as Minister of State for Trade and Industry on January 1, 2016. He graduated from the Faculty of Medicine of the National University of Singapore in 1996 and obtained his Fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons (Edinburgh) as well as the Academy of Medicine (Singapore) in 2005.

In light of the official Omani business and government delegation trip to Singapore in 2016 led by Ithraa, how can Oman help play a bigger role in capitalizing on the GCC-Singapore free trade agreement?

The recent visit to Singapore by the combined government and business delegation from Oman demonstrated the strong ties that have been built up between our two countries. The delegation met with both government representatives and members of the Singapore business community to discuss the various investment opportunities in their respective countries. Singaporean companies are active in Oman's ICT and water sectors and are keen on pursuing opportunities in other diverse sectors such as fisheries, airport services, and logistics. The GCC-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (GSFTA) entered into force in September 2013 and helps facilitate the growing trade links between Singapore and Oman. Among other benefits, it provides for a preferential tariff rate for Omani exports to Singapore, and vice versa. Through the implementation of the GSFTA, both Singaporean and Omani traders benefit from importing and exporting their goods from and to each other. Ithraa, with its mandate to promote the export of Omani goods to other countries, is in an excellent position to raise awareness of the benefits of the GSFTA among Omani companies. Another good example of our growing bilateral economic ties is the mutual recognition of halal standards between Oman and Singapore as a spin-off from the GSFTA. This ensures that halal food products in Oman are recognized as halal by Singapore's authority on Islamic matters, Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), and vice versa.

What main items of trade comprise the economic relationship between Singapore and Oman, especially as Omani exports to Singapore posted a 10.5% increase last year?

The most traded product between Oman and Singapore last year was petroleum oil. However, we have also seen a jump in trade in non-oil products such as aluminum, organic chemicals, marble for building materials, and even perfumes. The diversity of Oman's exports to Singapore is the result of Oman's efforts in promoting its non-oil exports.

Singapore enjoys the top spot in the World Bank's “Doing Business Report." As a country in a similar geopolitical situation, how can Oman follow Singapore's model and improve its position as an enabler of global and regional commerce?

As a small island nation, the lifeblood of Singapore's economy is trade, investment, and business. Unlike Oman, Singapore does not have any natural resources to rely on. Therefore, the government is committed to maintaining high standards in the ease of doing business in Singapore to ensure that commerce flourishes. There are several factors that have contributed to Singapore's rank in the "Doing Business Report." One of the most important is the strong rule of law, with a competent and independent judiciary. International investors and domestic businesses alike are confident that their investments will be protected and can operate in an environment with zero tolerance for corruption. Another factor is excellent infrastructure. Through continual investments, rigorous maintenance, and ongoing improvements to our infrastructure, we provide reliable power and water supplies, efficient logistics and transport links and high-speed internet access. These measures ensure that Singapore remains as business-friendly as possible. While each country's circumstances are unique, we are always happy to receive delegations from Oman and share our experiences. In so doing, both parties benefit through mutual learning.

How would you assess the influence and role of Singaporean technology companies in the development and growth of the Omani telecom and IT sector?

Singapore companies are active in Oman's telecoms and IT sectors, helping to develop its e-Government services and other IT-related technology services in areas such as education and the maritime industry. In the 21st century and especially the rapid spread of the Internet of Things, we will live in an increasingly interconnected and digital world. A strong presence in this sector will lead to opportunities for deeper collaboration between Singaporean and Omani companies.