Ambassador Goh highlighted Egypt's historical support for Singapore's independence and the enduring 58-year-long diplomatic relationship between the two nations during an interview with Ahram Online.
Ahram Online: How do you assess the current state of political and diplomatic relations between Egypt and Singapore?
Dominic Goh: Relations between Singapore and Egypt are excellent, and always have been. Our diplomatic relationship was established in 1965, with 58 years of cooperation. We are grateful that Egypt was one of the first countries to recognize Singapore's independence.
In terms of high-level contacts, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi visited Singapore in 2015 and Singapore’s President Tony Tan visited Egypt in 2016. We have regular exchanges of high-level visits. For example, last year, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and Minister of Sustainability and Environment Grace Fu visited Egypt.
Minister for Social and Family Development and Minister for Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli also visited Egypt this year. We also currently have 200 of Singapore's best students studying in Al-Azhar.
On the Egyptian side, Minister of Civil Aviation Abbas Helmy, Minister Tarek El-Molla, President of GAFI Dr Hossam Heiba, and Head of the Egyptian Commercial Service Ambassador Yehia El-Wathik have visited Singapore.
AO: What shared interests do both nations possess that can serve as a foundation for further advancing bilateral relations?
DG: We have common interests in promoting a peaceful world, as well as economic growth and win-win partnerships. Furthermore, Singapore and Egypt are regional transport hubs - Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world, and Egypt likewise has the Suez Canal which occupies a strategic location in the world's shipping lanes.
AO: What are the priorities of your diplomatic agenda in Egypt?
DG: Even though we have excellent relations, it is important to further strengthen the political and economic relationship. It is my priority to continue to promote more visits by Singaporean ministers to Egypt, and Egyptian ministers to Singapore.
We will also promote more trade and investments between Singapore and Egypt, as well as more tourism and student exchanges. We will also share Singapore’s successful development experience by offering more training courses for Egyptian officials.
AO: Singapore is among the countries most affected by climate change... How do you see the results achieved so far by the COP 27 Summit, which was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, and what are your aspirations for the COP 28 summit, which will take place in the United Arab Emirates?
DG: The COP27 summit was a great success which added new momentum to the climate change discussion. COP28 needs to build on these successes to further implement concrete measures reducing carbon emissions. Countries must also make voluntary commitments towards reducing carbon emissions. For example, Singapore has made a voluntary commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
AO: Are there any collaborative efforts between the two countries on sustainable development?
DG: We are currently discussing the possibility of exchanging carbon credits between our two countries. Putting an economic price on carbon emissions will give a monetary incentive for companies to cut carbon emissions. For example, Singaporean companies could invest in low-carbon initiatives in Egypt to claim carbon credits in Singapore.
AO: What is your assessment of the current economic cooperation between Singapore and Egypt?
DG: Singapore is the fourth biggest investor in Egypt from East Asia; we have more than $1.3 billion of investments here. Our companies are active in agriculture, logistics, food processing, IT, and plastics manufacturing. We are helping to generate exports and create more jobs for Egypt.
Exports from Egypt to Singapore expanded by over 200% last year to $300 million, with Singapore buying more oil, gas, and fruits from Egypt. Singapore's exports to Egypt also increased significantly to $300 million, supplying mainly gas turbines and electronic equipment.
This year, Singaporean companies have confidently increased their investments in Egypt, supporting Egyptians with jobs and foreign markets. For example, Olam International recently opened a new factory in Beni Suef. Our largest port company, PSA-BDP opened a logistics office in Cairo, and Indorama is planning a feasibility study on a huge potential investment.
AO: What about Singapore's successful economic experience, can you tell us more about it?
DG: My Egyptian friends have asked me many times to explain what Singapore is and why it works, the reason behind our rapid economic success. Of course, our strong governance, focus on education, and forward-looking economic policies play their parts.
But let me just say one thing: what underlies all of this is our people. It is how we as Singaporeans come together regardless of race, language, or religion to give our best and push Singapore forward. Just look at our presidents. Our former president Dr. Tony Tan, who is a good friend of Egypt and visited in 2016, is Chinese. Our current president Halimah Yacob is a Malay Muslim woman. And our next president, newly elected, will be Indian.
This represents Singapore. Harnessing our diversity becomes our greatest strength and allows Singapore to punch above its weight both domestically and internationally. We stick by each other even in the most difficult of times. Yet, it is not enough for us to come together only within our own country. Singapore is too small for this. To succeed, we rely on our friends overseas, such as ASEAN, and key regional partners like Egypt.
ASEAN is the world’s second most successful regional organization after the EU. ASEAN comprises the 10 countries of Southeast Asia, with a combined GDP is $3.66 trillion and a population of close to 700 million. This makes ASEAN the world’s 5th largest economy (after the US, China, Japan, and Germany). Combined, ASEAN is the number one foreign investor in Egypt from East Asia.
Singapore’s success lies in our people and the strength of our friendships.
AO: What about cooperation between the two countries in tourism?
DG: With its fantastic ancient wonders, Egypt is one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Many Singaporean tourists are keen to visit Egypt and we have ongoing cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
It is also interesting to note that the tourism ministry is working with a Singaporean company – NEON Global - to organize the Ramses the Great exhibition in Houston, San Francisco, Paris, Sydney, and many other world cities.
Singapore’s Changi Airport has also signed an MOU with Egypt's Ministry of Civil Aviation to conduct studies on improving Cairo Airport’s passenger and cargo terminals. This will promote tourism by improving passenger flows and customer service at Cairo Airport.
AO: Singapore has deep experience in smart city technologies, while Egypt is currently pursuing major urban developments. Where do you identify areas for possible collaboration in these domains?
DG: Singapore is Asia's top smart city, where 99% of government services can be accessed online. We have harnessed the power of big data and AI to help us to plan traffic flows more effectively. We are also testing the feasibility of autonomous vehicles.
Certainly, there is potential to cooperate in digitization and smart cities. The Singapore AI Centre has provided an AI course to Egypt's Ministry of Communications and IT, and we are discussing further cooperation with other ministries.
AO: How would you describe your experience in Egypt? What is your impression of the people, and do you have a favourite Egyptian dish?
DG: Egypt is a beautiful country with friendly people and many interesting attractions. You have a very rich history and an ancient civilization. There is so much to discover. As for food, I really enjoy eating ful, ta3meya, and baladi bread for breakfast, especially on the weekends.