ISLAMABAD: Last year, Singapore’s total trade volume with the rest of the world stood around a whopping $800 billion. But bilateral trade between Pakistan and Singapore is hovering around just $2 billion. That number, however, may change as a 21-member business delegation from Singapore is currently on a visit to Pakistan to explore investment opportunities.
Shamsher Zaman, who is non-resident Ambassador of Singapore to Jordan, is leading the delegation. Besides being an ambassador, Shamsher is a member of the Singapore Federation. He is also chairman of the Middle East Group and vice chairman of the South Asian group.
Shamsher is also the managing director of Linkers (Far East) Pte Ltd, Singapore – a global player in the supply of industrial chemicals and polymers, which are raw material for various industries. He was awarded The Entrepreneur of the Year Award and his company has also been conferred with several other most prestigious corporate awards and accolades including the Enterprise 50 Award.
Taking time out from his hectic engagements in Islamabad, in an interview with The Express Tribune, Shamsher explained that the objective of the visit of Singapore delegation was to identify opportunities for investment in Pakistan.
“Also we are looking at possibilities of increasing bilateral trade,” he said.
He said this was the first-ever business delegation of Singapore visiting Pakistan. “We, the business community in Singapore, are not much aware of what is required in Pakistan, although Singapore has engaged with other countries in the world,” Shamsher added.
The business delegation comprises 14 companies from a wide range of sectors such as construction, oil and gas, agriculture, trading and distribution and professional services.
The delegation arrived in Pakistan on February 24 and has so far met not only with the private sector but also government officials.
“We started our meetings in Karachi. We met the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry and some leading Pakistani companies,” the head of the delegation said.
He said they had also had interaction with the Pakistan Business Council and in Islamabad they held meetings in the Ministry of Commerce as well. Officials at the ministry gave the delegation detailed presentations on various projects.
“The whole objective is to identify where Singapore companies can invest,” Shamsher said.
“In our delegation, half of the companies are SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) because SMEs are an important part of Singapore’s economy and the same is true in Pakistan,” he said when asked about potential areas of investment.
He added, “There is a lot of emphasis on SMEs, so we brought a number of SMEs from various sectors from infrastructure to food business.” “It’s just an exploratory visit to identify some areas.”
He said Singapore started engaging countries in Africa, the Middle East and with zero business to start with, today their businesses were in billions.
“In Pakistan, I see much more potential but there has to be right policies in place, ease of doing business which is very important,” he stressed.
He said the present government was working to achieve targets but still a lot of work needed to be done.
He said Pakistan market was big with over 200 million people and “anything you can produce here sells.”
One of the areas where Singapore businessmen are quite keen to invest is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, a flagship programme of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
“A lot of Singapore companies are interested in CPEC and Singapore companies have a lot of expertise in infrastructure, industrial parks,” he said.
Singapore is a small country as compared to Pakistan, yet it is one of the strong economies of the world. According to Shamsher, frequent interaction between business communities of the two countries could greatly help Pakistan learn from the success story of Singapore.
He said most of the members of the delegation were for the first time visiting Pakistan. “I have to say their perception has changed about Pakistan.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2019.