SINGAPORE—Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has wrapped up his first official visit to Singapore this week. He was received by his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong with whom he reviewed the Honor Guard on the tarmac.
On the first day, the Prime Minister signed five treaties. These included an agreement to scrap double taxation between the two countries to enhance cross-border trade and investment. The two states also agreed to cooperate on the creation of a botanical garden in Armenia, as well as tourism, culture and vocational education initiatives.
As part of his three-day official state visit, Pashinyan also toured the 160 year-old Singapore Botanic Gardens. The Gardens are considered some of the most beautiful in the world and credited with turning the island into a “garden city.” As per a cooperation agreement, Singaporean botanists will assist Armenia in reviving its own, critically underfunded botanical garden. In a symbolic gesture and a call back to the island nation’s official flower, a new variety of the orchid was named after the Prime Minister and his wife Anna Hakobyan. In fact, the “Miss Joaquim”—a unique strain of the orchid—was discovered and bred by an Armenian woman and Singapore native, Ashkhen Hovakimyan. “The Armenians are talented people,” said Pashinyan, as he elaborated on Hovakimyan’s landmark contribution in Singapore.
Armeno-Singaporean relations are as old as the city-state itself. A small, but critically influential number of Armenian families made their way to the then-British island at the turn of the 19th century. There, they founded Singapore’s first Christian house of worship, the Soorp Krikor Lusavorich Church (fittingly located on Armenian Street), as well as the city’s most renowned luxury hotel, the Raffles. The country’s largest English-language broadsheet newspaper, the Straits Times, also carries the name of its Armenian founder on its masthead.
The Straits Times perhaps self-flatteringly quoted Prime Minister Lee in saying: “As a former journalist who founded his own newspaper, PM Pashinyan would be pleased to know that Singapore’s main broadsheet, The Straits Times, was co-founded in 1845 by an Armenian, Catchick Moses.”
During a reception at the Singaporean Prime Minister’s official residence, known as the Istana, Lee discussed his country’s imminent signature of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Eurasian Union of which Armenia is the current chair.
“While many in the world may be turning their backs on free trade, we’re negotiating an FTA between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU),” said Lee. “The FTA will catalyze more business and stronger economic relations between our two regions, and we deeply appreciate Armenia’s strong support for the FTA.”
Pashinyan, for his part, made a strong case for investing in Armenia. Alluding to Singapore’s reputation as a safe harbor for business interests in southern Asia, Pashinyan argued that bolstered rule of law and reduction in corruption make Armenia a safe bet for Singaporean businesses wishing to take advantage of the EEU’s large market set up offices in Armenia. Though they do present attractive investment opportunities, former Soviet countries in the EEU have been a headache for many foreign investors. Armenia is trying to reverse that.
Pashinyan, accompanied by Minister of Economy Tigran Khachatryan, Minister of High-Technological Industry Hakob Arshakyan and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Avet Adonts, also held meetings with Singaporean trade delegations and business interests. During one such meeting, Singaporean Minister of State for Trade and Industry Dr. Koh Poh Koon called the countries’ trade “a very humble start with room to grow.” Bilateral trade stood at $2.8 million last year, up from $1.6 million the previous year. “Armenia takes interest in Singapore’s development record and experience, which can be useful in the process of our reforms,” said Pashinyan. “We are keen to share know-how and implement joint investment programs.”
The Armenian technology sector also occupied conversations on future trade opportunities. Ho Meng Kit, CEO of the Singapore Business Federation, praised Armenia’s startup scene. He also told journalists that pursuing increased trade with Armenia makes a good “insurance policy to diversify Singapore’s list of foreign markets.” Ho called for a follow-up meeting in Yerevan, proposing to send a delegation of Singaporean business representatives to explore opportunities in Yerevan’s technology and business sectors.
Pashinyan’s visit to Singapore is his second in southeast Asia. Last week, he visited his counterpart in Vietnam—Nguyen Xuân Phúc, with whom he discussed visa facilitation, tourism development, the avoidance of double taxation and trade. The leaders even tossed around the idea of introducing Armenian brandy and wine to the Vietnamese market. “I am confident that they can be competitive in your domestic market,” said Pashinyan to a group of businessmen from Vietnam’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Following their talks, Nguyen and Pashinyan signed an education and science cooperation agreement. Nguyen noted that around 1,000 Vietnamese students graduated from Armenian universities during the Soviet era, several of whom met with Pashinyan during his visit to the Armenian embassy in Vietnam to discuss the development of more diverse educational programs.