SPEECH BY PRESIDENT TONY TAN KENG YAM AT THE STATE BANQUET HOSTED IN HONOUR OF HIS EXCELLENCY JUAN CARLOS VARELA, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF PANAMA, AND MDM LORENA CASTILLO DE VARELA ON 22 APRIL 2016
Your Excellency President Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez
President of the Republic of Panama
Mdm Lorena Castillo de Varela
Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me great pleasure to welcome President Varela, Mdm Castillo de Varela, and your accompanying delegation to Singapore. This is, in fact, not President Varela’s first visit to our country. I understand Your Excellency visited Singapore in 2010. We are happy to welcome you back, and hope that your visit has been a fruitful one.
Singapore and Panama established diplomatic relations on 6 August 1982. We have developed a warm relationship over the last 33 years, built on mutual interests and a shared outlook of the world. Our two countries share many similarities. Singapore and Panama are both small countries with populations under 6 million. We depend heavily on trade for our livelihoods. As small and outward-looking economies, we have been active in our support for multilateral cooperation, free trade, and navigational freedom. Our strategic geographical locations have enabled us to become transport hubs for our respective regions. As like-minded nations, we work well together both bilaterally, and in international forums such as the United Nations and the International Maritime Organisation.
On the economic front, our countries enjoy robust ties, buttressed by the twin pillars of the Singapore-Panama Free Trade Agreement, and the Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement signed during Your Excellency’s last visit. Panama is Singapore’s top trading partner in Latin America, with bilateral trade volume standing at S$7.5 billion in 2015.
In the six years since Your Excellency was last here, much has changed in Singapore. The skyline of the Marina Bayfront, which Your Excellency would have seen from The Fullerton Hotel, is an example. Our port, which Your Excellency visited today, has continued to develop from investments in cutting-edge technology to boost its competitiveness in the maritime industry.
Like Singapore, Panama has undergone considerable change. The Panama Canal, opened just over a century ago, has been one of the key engines of Panama’s growth. I congratulate Your Excellency on the opening of the expanded Panama Canal to commercial transit in June this year. Already one of the busiest waterways in the world, this expansion will further cement Panama’s position as a major global trading route, and contribute to the continued strength of the economy of Panama.
There is scope for Singapore and Panama to continue working together to address the challenges of our increasingly complex world. I am pleased to learn that our Institute of Technical Education, which Your Excellency visited today, has been working closely with Panama in the last few years to help develop Superior Technical Institutes. Singapore’s only resource is our people. We believe in investing heavily in our people so that they acquire the skills they need in the new economy. We are therefore happy to share our experiences in developing vocational and technical training. Our countries are also exploring further bilateral cooperation in areas such as infrastructure development, master planning and urban solutions. There are many possibilities for our companies to work together for mutual benefit, and I encourage them to take advantage of the opportunities to collaborate.
Singapore and Panama share many commonalities including our strategic locations and emphasis on trade. We also share the orchid as our national flowers. Earlier today, a beautiful orchid was named after President Varela and Mdm Castillo de Varela at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It is a fitting symbol of the warm friendship between Singapore and Panama - one that I am sure will continue to grow and flourish.
Ladies and Gentlemen
May I now invite you to rise and join me in a toast to:
- The continued good health and success of His Excellency President Varela and Mdm Castillo de Varela;
- The continued peace, progress and prosperity of the people of Panama; and
- The lasting friendship and close ties between Singapore and Panama.