The Land of the Dodo

Despite the occasional political sound-bites, there was never going to be any comparison with Singapore.

It is a country of more than 5 million, which has developed a collective sense of belonging transcending the diverse origins and threads of its inhabitants, making diversity one of its key attractions. Situated at the heart of a busy crossroad of international trade and tourism using the Malacca straits, close to large suppliers of raw materials and markets, it has, since the days of grand statesman Lee Kwan Yew, systematically aimed to tap the best of its people, geography and history for its economic development, despite latent centrifugal forces requiring a degree of authoritarian approach. Whatever the qualms, nobody can doubt that it has, with a consistent longer-term view of the country’s strategic interests and superb forward-planning capacities, developed ambitions, institutions, technical and administrative cadres that force respect and have sustained development in any major field it has broached, from tertiary education, through air and sea logistics, to international financial operations.

It is extremely doubtful that Singapore would ever have embarked on the major exercise of renegotiation of its DTAA treaty with India without detailed confidential pre-consultations with its stakeholders, without sussing out in advance the Indian concerns and bargaining latitude, without considering outcome scenarios compatible with its longer-term national interests. Both India and Singapore are obviously keenly aware what intelligent negotiation regarding a key issue both nations consider important for different reasons, entails.

It is unthinkable that Singapore would deliberately or through some access of levity or political expediency, shoot itself fully in both feet, even in exchange of a few million dollars “subsidy” destined for some dubious value property schemes. It is unthinkable that even a Senior Minister, accompanied by a couple of cadres and advisors, could be granted the authority to negotiate, sign and ratify new treaty terms that would radically alter an instrument of development of considerable weight to its national economy.

Today it must watch on with some bemusement as we hand over critical taxing rights to Indian authorities and pave the way for foreign investors to take their investment billions into India through the Singapore route. The upcoming Indian GAAR rules will eventually rely on some local “substance” for foreign companies to continue enjoying the benefits of the Singapore investment route, something most companies may find relatively easy and secure to achieve. Besides, the Asian lion benefits from a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with the emerging Elephant, which guarantees investors a significant level of security and protection.

As for India, its high-level cadres and experienced Ministers must be equally bemused at a far easier task than they could ever have imagined over the ten years or more that Mauritius had successfully resisted major changes which could irreparably damage a strategic pillar of our small and vulnerable economy. But they may not be so surprised after watching the upheavals and storms that have swept the country throughout most of last year. We are after all renowned as the land where a big fat duck vanished at the hands of its few inhabitants.

* Published in print edition on 13 May 2016

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