Monday, September 15, 2014

UAE, Singapore share many similarities: Ambassador

DUBAI: The UAE and Singapore are collaborating in multifarious fields including trade, arts/culture and tourism. The UAE is now Singapore’s 10th largest trading partner and its largest in the Middle East.  Discussions on further strengthening the partnership are going on at the highest levels, according to Singapore’s first resident Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Umej Bhatia.
In an exclusive interview with The Gulf Today, on the sidelines of the Singapore National Day celebrations event held in Atlantis, Dubai on Friday, the ambassador said that tourism figures point to very strong people-to-people links between both countries.
Bhatia graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Double First Class Honours) in English Literature from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom in 1995. In 2005, he obtained a Master of Arts in Regional Studies (Middle East) from Harvard University, US. He joined the Foreign Service in 1996 and has served in various capacities on issues covering Southeast Asia, Middle East and the United Nations in the Ministry’s headquarters.
Excerpts from the interview:
Which are the major sectors in which Singapore and the UAE can learn from each other and collaborate strongly? 
Singapore and the UAE share many similarities and there are so many learning points we can share with each other. We are both relatively small countries, but both are very outward-oriented and very well-plugged into the global network, not just trade-wise but politically as well.  Both countries have excellent infrastructure and offer safe, stable and secure environments for businesses to operate. 
Both are also superbly connected by air and sea to the rest of the world.  It is no surprise therefore that we both act as natural hubs for our respective regions, and there is so much to collaborate on to boost our hub-to-hub links.  Ultimately, this can only benefit our regions and the world.
Is there any joint panel or team that consistently works for mutual cooperation between the two countries, like the UAE and UK have? What are its present activities? 
Indeed there are.  The two most prominent ones are firstly the Singapore-UAE Joint Committee. Led by the Foreign Ministers of both countries, Singapore will in fact be hosting the inaugural meeting of this Joint Committee on 30-31 October, 2014.  The agreement on this was signed by the two Ministers when the Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, K Shanmugam, visited the UAE in May 2013.
This Joint Committee meeting will mark a new milestone in the already very robust bilateral relations, and we are confident that this platform will take our relations to an even higher plane.
Secondly, on the economic front, there is the Abu Dhabi-Singapore Joint Forum. Established in 2007, this Joint Forum has been hosted alternately by Abu Dhabi and Singapore.  It is co-chaired by Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi and Lee Yi Shyan, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development.
The last meeting was hosted in Singapore in November 2013.  This is a unique forum for bringing together both senior government officials as well as senior business leaders.  The discussions focus on strengthening the economic links and identifying areas of collaboration and partnership.  This has benefitted the business communities of both sides.
About bilateral trade. Is the volume increasing? Any hiccups that need to be rectified? 
In 2013, bilateral trade increased by 9% to a value of about Dhs80 billion. The UAE is now Singapore’s 10th largest trading partner and its largest in the Middle East. As countries that act as trading hubs for their regions, both countries have invested a lot of resources into trade facilitation. Coupled with the stable and supportive business environment, both countries have enjoyed very smooth trading relations and with both regions growing, we foresee much more trade linkages in the years to come.  
Are the people-to-people links growing strongly? How much is the Singaporean population in the UAE? 
There are some 3,000 Singaporean citizens officially registered with the Singapore Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate-General in Dubai.  With many more travelling to the UAE for work and leisure, we estimate that there are probably 5,000 of us here at any moment. Some 55,000 visitors from the UAE visited Singapore last year. 
These figures point to the very strong people-to-people links between both countries.  This should not come as a surprise, given the excellent connections between the two countries and the similarities that we share as global and cosmopolitan countries.  Singaporeans feel very much at home here in the UAE, and vice versa.
Sharjah-based Barjeel Art Foundation and Singapore Art Museum had earlier teamed up for exhibitions. How strong are the cultural links?
This is indeed one growing area with much potential for increased collaboration.  As you mentioned, the Barjeel Art Foundation and the Singapore Art Museum had jointly worked on an exhibition in Singapore.  Entitled  “Terms and Conditions”, this event was held in Singapore from 28 June to 8 September 2013, and was very well-received. 
There were in fact many pieces that were exhibited outside of the UAE for the first time. This positive experience has paved the way for future collaboration between the cultural communities of both sides.  I cannot reveal details yet, but do watch out for another exciting exhibition being planned for next year, this time in the UAE. 
This will be another example of the burgeoning arts and cultural ties between both sides.  I would also note that in addition to all this, the Singaporean art community has always been a strong supporter of the annual Art Dubai. 
How about medical tourism from the UAE to Singapore? Any big names that recently made such a visit? 
Singapore is well-known for its very strong medical sector. We host many world-renowned medical practitioners and institutions, both home-grown and from abroad.  As you would appreciate, we do need to guard medical confidentialities, but we always welcome and try our best to facilitate the comfort and support needed for those who have need of medical treatment in Singapore.
Do you think Dubai and Singapore have similar architectural look?  
As global cities with very cosmopolitan populations, it is no surprise that the skyline of both cities are simply stunning.  Dubai of course has the world-renowned Burj Khalifa.  Singapore’s skyscrapers, while more modest in height, are also a big reason why Singapore is considered one of the best cities to work and live in. 
Indeed, just next week, the annual Formula 1 race will take place in Singapore. As the F1’s first night race, it is held against the dramatic backdrop of a cityscape that is lit up and shimmering.
Dubai of course has the luxury of having far more land to build on, but both cities share the similar challenge of ensuring that urban planning is carried out in a beautiful yet sustainable manner. This common challenge brings me back to my first point: Dubai and Singapore, and the UAE and Singapore in general, share so many similarities, and we can learn so much from each other.
Singapore is known as a highly disciplined and peaceful country. Do you see the Tamil riots last year as an aberration?
It was an incident that also showed us the necessity of being vigilant. We had a commission of inquiry to look into the incidents and lessons learnt. The key thing is to make sure that we move on and put in place whatever mechanism to address such issues.
We are forward looking. In the sense of how the issue was handled, our law enforcement agencies were very careful, not trigger-happy and highly disciplined. I give full credit to our law enforcement. There were lots of emotions and there was lot of restraint.
What were the post-riot measures?
After the incident, we implemented immediate measures, including not serving alcohol in that area. As part of long-term initiatives, law enforcement agencies are in closer touch with the community to pre-empt such incidents. This is a one-off incident unfortunately triggered by a very sad traffic accident.


  1. If UAE and Singapore are collaborating then it should definitely produce some good results as both the countries are good at delivering results, cutting down all red tapism.