SPEECH BY PRESIDENT TONY TAN KENG YAM AT THE STATE BANQUET HOSTED BY PRESIDENT SERGIO MATTARELLA AT THE PALAZZO DEL QUIRINALE, ROME ON 23 MAY 2016
Your Excellency Mr Sergio Mattarella
President of the Republic of Italy
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am honoured to have been invited by President Mattarella to make the first ever State Visit to Italy by a Singapore President. On behalf of my wife and the Singapore delegation, I would like to thank you, Mr President, for the hospitality and thoughtful arrangements made in connection with the visit. In particular, we appreciate your gesture of hosting us to dinner in this historic venue, the Palazzo del Quirinale.
Ties between Italy and Singapore go back many years. Last year, Singapore celebrated our 50th anniversary of independence. In 1965, few countries gave us much chance of survival as a sovereign nation. We had a small population, no economic hinterland and no natural resources. Yet Italy was one of just thirteen countries to have established diplomatic relations with Singapore in 1965 – the year of our independence. We in Singapore still remember and appreciate the faith placed in us by Italy during our formative years.
Political relations between Singapore and Italy are strong. President Giuseppe Saragat visited Singapore in 1967. Singapore was again honoured in 1988 by the visit of President Francesco Cossiga. As Singapore’s then-Minister for Education, I was personally involved in President Cossiga’s visit. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, as then-Senior Minister of Singapore visited Italy in 2002 while our former Prime Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong visited Italy in 1999 and once again in 2006 as Senior Minister. Recently, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited Italy for the 10th Summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Milan in October 2014 where he met Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. We have also witnessed a healthy exchange of visits at the ministerial level over the past few years. It is my sincere hope that this State Visit will serve as a catalyst for even more high-level visits between our two countries.
I am also pleased to see that the economic relationship between Singapore and Italy is growing. Singapore is currently the largest export destination for Italy in Southeast Asia. Italy enjoys a healthy trade surplus with Singapore. Singapore imports a diverse range of Italian products from fine wine, to high fashion, precision tools and luxury cars. The Republic of Singapore Air Force was one of the first to purchase Finmeccanica’s M-346 fighter training jets for advanced training of our pilots. More than 500 Italian companies are currently operating in Singapore, including famous Italian brands like Prada, Ferragamo, Benetton, Pirelli and Ferrero. For Italian businesses, Singapore can serve as your gateway not just to Southeast Asia, but also to the wider Asia-Pacific – the largest high-growth region in the world. I am confident that this visit will serve to encourage our businessmen, some of whom are at this dinner, to explore the numerous opportunities on offer in Italy.
I am confident that the EU-Singapore Free Trade agreement, when ratified, will further boost bilateral trade and investment with Italy. It will also provide protection to Italy’s fine agricultural produce including Calabrian olives, parmesan cheese and prosciutto ham through geographical indicators.
Cultural cooperation between Singapore and Italy is also growing. The Italian Cultural Institute in Singapore was opened in 1989, and Italy today enjoys a positive mindshare in Singapore. Your famous fashion, music, cuisine and sports – especially football – are all highly regarded, as are your rich history and natural beauty. Italy is also one of the top holiday destinations for Singaporeans in Europe.
I am also pleased to see that Singapore is expanding our cultural footprint in Italy. This year marks the 5th time that Singapore will be participating in the Venice Biennale, one of the most prestigious events on the international arts and design calendar. Singapore has recently invested in a long-term lease for display space at the Biennale. I look forward to visiting the Venice Architecture Biennale later this week and visiting the pavilions at the Giardini and the Arsenale.
Singapore and Italy also enjoy good education and research links. Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) has signed several agreements with Italian universities and research institutes to encourage collaboration in areas such as molecular biology and targeted cancer research. The National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University have also established links with Italian universities for exchanges and joint research in exciting fields including translational medicine and nanotechnology research. I am also pleased to note that our defence ties are growing.
I am happy to note that numerous agreements have been signed in conjunction with this State Visit. Besides collaboration in education and research, the agreements also covered collaboration in trade and investment, culture and design. These agreements underscore the strong interest by both sides to strengthen ties at all levels. I am confident that they will lead to even stronger collaborations going forward.
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my sincere hope that the strong partnership and deep ties of friendship that exist between Singapore and Italy will continue to grow and flourish.
Ladies and Gentlemen
May I now ask you to rise and join me in a toast to the Republic of Italy, to the President and to the people of Italy.