Riau-S’pore ties to go beyond water, greens

Singapore is looking to import raw water and vegetables from the resource-rich Riau province as part of a new pattern of economic interaction that could redefine the Republic’s ties with Indonesia’s provinces in the long run.

In return for natural resources and foodstuff, Riau stands to gain not only foreign investment, revenue and jobs, but also human resource training.

Visiting Trade and Industry Minister George Yeo announced this yesterday and noted that Singapore’s geographical and historical links with some provinces and the dictates of efficiency would guide its future economic relationship with Indonesia.

He told reporters at the end of a four-day visit to Indonesia: “In the old days, everything had to go through Jakarta.

“With decentralisation in Indonesia, I see a new pattern of interaction emerging in Singapore’s relationship with the islands of the archipelago.”

In line with this new thinking, Singapore would open a consulate here to strengthen economic linkages with the Riau province.

Together with Riau Governor Salleh Djasit, he announced several initiatives to bring Singapore and Riau closer.

One was for Singapore to buy water from Bintan island, under a 1991 agreement with Indonesia.

The private sector would take the lead in negotiating a deal, with Singapore looking to get 50 million to 100 million gallons of water daily.

He said Singapore was always looking for more sources of water supply. For now, however, he ruled out sourcing water from the Kampar catchment area here, saying the costs would be too high for Singapore.

The river was too far away from Singapore and its salt content was high, said Brigadier-General (NS) Yeo, who visited the area with his 40-member team.

Singapore also wanted to buy vegetables, and estimated that the Riau mainland could supply 40 per cent of its daily needs. BG Yeo said that the plan would start with a one-hectare “experimental farm” owned and run by local farmers.

With technology and training provided by the Singapore private sector, there could emerge a model for more farms here. Human resource development could include scholarships for students to study in Singapore polytechnics and schools, and teacher training.

BG Yeo summed up his trip this way: “This has been a very good visit. We have opened up a new chapter in our economic relationship.”

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