Singapore businesses hope for end to territorial tensions

The Business Times by JANICE HENG


SINGAPORE'S business community hopes the territorial tensions between Malaysia and Singapore can be resolved soon and amicably, with manufacturers especially concerned.

Both countries have agreed to meet in the second week of January to exchange views on the unilateral extension of the Johor Baru port limits.

Said Yeo Cheong Guan, managing director of Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) member Eng Bee Paper Merchant: "As we travel frequently to all parts of Malaysia, we are concerned should negative feeling escalate and affect the ease of travel and the conduct of business."

A managing director of an SMF member in chemical-related manufacturing, who declined to be named, was concerned about the overall business climate: "Any tension between two such close countries has the potential to affect general sentiment. This in turn may cause potential investors, especially those from other countries, to be more hesitant in investing in the region."

Noting that "strong, stable and respectful relations" will aid the economies of both countries, SMF president Douglas Foo said manufacturers hope for a swift resolution, while recognising that it will require both governments to work together.

He added: "In the meantime, the SMF stands ready and will continue to work closely with our government ministries and its agencies, as well as our trade contacts in Malaysia, to assist any of our members should they encounter any difficulties as a result of these tensions."

While firms are not affected at the moment, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) is watching developments closely, said chief executive officer Ho Meng Kit. "We are encouraged by the latest round of statements which indicate that both countries prefer a diplomatic route and an amicable solution."

There are many areas that both countries' business communities can work on to expand regional trade and deepen economic integration in light of ongoing trade disputes of major trading partners, he added.

Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Victor Mills noted that the maritime sector "is naturally concerned about possible safety issues", but said it and other businesses "confidently expect" an amicable resolution.

Noting that many Malaysian companies do business in Singapore and vice versa, Kurt Wee, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president, expressed optimism that tensions would calm down soon.