THE new High Commissioner brings to her new assignment an energetic and robust body of experience to take forward the process of strengthening the ties that bind Canada and Singapore
Welcome! This is your second posting in Asia. Could you give some insights to your earlier postings?
I joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade as it was then known almost 20 years ago. My first assignment was as legal advisor to Canada’s Permanent Mission to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva. I then returned to Ottawa before taking an assignment at the Canadian embassy in Washington DC, where I headed up the trade policy section. I was there for four years before returning to Ottawa. I then served as Director of the intellectual property trade policy division which involved overseeing the negotiation of the intellectual property chapters in a number of Canada’s free trade agreements before heading out to Hong Kong in 2014 as Consul and Senior Trade Commissioner.
Bilateral ties between our two countries have been excellent for many, many years.Could you share with us some of the highlights of what you have inherited from this association?
Canada is proud to be among one of the first handful of countries to recognise Singapore as an independent nation in 1965. We actually have a wall display at the High Commission that highlights the key milestones in our bilateral relationship. Over the years, our Prime Ministers have had a variety of exchanges, and I would say friendships, particularly that between Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
Canada also sponsored a number of Singaporeans to come and study in Canada on the Colombo plan scholarships, (beginning in 1966). That fostered some very strong bonds between Canada and the top scholars from Singapore who then took up positions of responsibility and authority here.
In terms of other milestones, through the works of my colleagues in the High Commission, we launched a film festival in 2011 at the National University of Singapore, which continues to thrive to the present day. We’ve welcomed many trade missions, participated in trade fairs, and are involved with visits of ministers and cabinet officials in both directions.
Let’s talk about the trade. Are you able to share some information on this, for example, in who’s favour it is and which are the potential areas of growth?
What I can say is that it’s a very robust, very strong bilateral trading relationship. In 2015, the bilateral merchandise trade totaled US$2.46 billion, with Canadian exports to Singapore being slightly higher. Canadian exports tend to be focused in aerospace, machinery, electrical machinery and equipment. There’s a lot of Canadian expertise and products involved in the transportation systems of Singapore such as the signaling system of the rail network and aircraft exports to Singapore as well as in flight maintenance.
In addition, in the display case behind me are many Canadian agricultural products and agri- foods, which have managed to find success in Singapore; there are the commodities such as pulses and oil seeds, but also some processed foods, and given Canada’s reputation for sustainable and high-quality production of our agricultural products, they find a ready market here. I would say, though, that there’s a lot of potential to expand the range of products, for example, to introduce Singaporeans to Canada’s wonderful table wines as well as our famous ice wines. We have been winning many international awards for the great table wines coming from British Columbia, Ontario and other parts of the country.
Our Canadian technology companies are finding partnerships and markets here, including in the ICT sector. Some of our start-up companies are also enjoying being in a vibrant city such as Singapore which they use as a base to expand their operations into Asia.
To date there has been some Singaporean investment in our mining sector and natural resources sector, as well as the real estate market – this is an area which, under my tenure I’d like to see grow significantly because having come from Hong Kong, I found some of the investors there showed a lot of interest in Canadian technology and in helping the Canadian companies to commercialise their technologies. I’ve heard that there’s likely to be a similar interest on the part of some of the major Singapore investors to commercialise Canadian technologies and bring them to Asia.
We have some Singaporean investments in the agriculture sector and that I would like to see expand if we can. We are very much interested in Singaporean companies that would be interested in a more long-term sense in Canada and help create more employment in Canada and also help strengthen the bilateral ties.
In terms of Canadian investment in Singapore we have the presence of our major banks, insurance companies and my understanding is that a number of those are looking for further expansion in Singapore, for example, Manualife is looking to see how it can further develop its operations here.
What about investments? How has Singapore invested in Canada and vice-versa?
To date there has been some Singaporean investment into our mining and natural resources sectors, as well as the real estate market – but this is an area which, under my tenure, I’d like to see grow significantly because I think that there could be considerable interest in Canadian technology and in helping Canadian companies to commercialise their technologies and bring them to Asia.
We also have some Singaporean investments in the agriculture sector that I would like to see expand if we can. We are very much interested in Singaporean companies that would be interested in a more long-term sense in Canada and help create more employment in Canada and also help strengthen the bilateral ties.
In terms of Canadian investment in Singapore we have the presence of our major banks, insurance companies as well as companies in the transport and ICT sector and my understanding is that a number of these are looking at the possibility of further expansion in Singapore.
Are there any government-linked Singaporean companies which are doing good work with Canada just now?
In terms of Temasek and sovereign funds, that’s an area where we hope to further strengthen the ties. There already are some investments, but with further discussions and building up more links and understanding of where their interests in Canada may be, there will be a better chance to further develop these links.
How large is the Canadian diaspora in Singapore and how does your high commission engage them? Do they have clubs? How do they connect?
There’s a Canadian Alumni Association and it’s currently an overall umbrella organization that brings together alumni groups from different universities. I understand that there are about 16,000 alumni of Canadian universities residing here. While they are not all necessarily Canadian citizens, they have all studied in Canada and have ties to Canada and that’s something we are hoping to continue to foster and nurture.
In addition we estimate probably 5000-6000 Canadian nationals living and working here in Singapore. We are not sure of the precise number because we do not require Canadians to register themselves with the High Commission so this is an estimate. We also work with partners such as the Canadian Association of Singapore, which is a social group that organises various events for Canadians in Singapore. I earlier mentioned the alumni associations that are very vibrant and there’s also the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which represents not only the interests of the Canadian companies based here, but also provides networking opportunities and sometimes educational seminars and social events. There’s also a “Canadian Dragons” dragonboat team here.
We are on the last leg of 2016 and stepping shortly into 2017. What is on the cards to promote Canada next year and what would you, through IN Diplomacy, shout out for, so that people keep an eye out for these events or activities?
We are looking forward to the year 2017 to be a very exciting year for Canada and Singapore, building on activities which took place during the Canada-Singapore 50 years celebrations last year. The year 2017 represents Canada’s 150th birthday so we are hoping to have a number of events to raise the profile of Canada in Singapore and introduce Singaporeans to many new aspects of Canada.
Right now we are at the planning and preliminary stages and I look forward to sharing with your readership some of the ideas we have. We are planning to promote Canada 150 through a number of events, including bringing some further attention to Canada’s indigenous peoples;—we are hoping to bring to Singapore an event which would highlight these communities as well as to promote the shared interest between Canada and Singapore on diversity and inclusion as well as on the environment—so these are just a few of the things we are hoping to plan events around.