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Singapore 'preparing for the upturn', says Minister *REVISED*

Singapore: Addressing the 24th Anniversary Gala Dinner of the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) on Friday night,  Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister in Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance and Transport, struck a cautiously optimistic note. For shipping, "the fundamentals are strong," she said, and "we are seeing some encouraging numbers. August 2009 saw the highest number of containers handled in a month since November 2008. Shipping tonnage for January - August 2009 rose by 9.2% over the same period last year, crossing 1 billion Gross Tons in July 2009 - a full month earlier than last year. Correspondingly, bunker sales grew by 2.1% year-on-year for this period."

The Minister went on the outline how Singapore is "preparing for the upturn." Measures being taken include industry-specific initiatives to help lower business cost, such as the port dues concession and the extension of waiver of withholding tax on interest payment. These are in addition to Singapore's economy-wide initiatives such as the jobs credit scheme and the special risk sharing initiative.

Mrs Lim Hwee Hua specified that some S$45 million had been allocated to facilitate the setting up and expansion of new lines of maritime-related businesses, and some S$25 million to support maritime research and development efforts.

Infrastructure-wise, Singapore is pressing on with the development of a new cutting-edge Port Operations Control Centre at Changi, she continued. Expansion of Pasir Panjang Container Terminals, construction of new lighter facilities at Marina South, and the dredging of fairways and channels are also on schedule, she reported, adding: "These facilities will allow us to better support an even busier port after the economy recovers." Singapore Port remained the world's busiest container port in the first half of 2009.

The Minister ended by quoting a few recent examples of companies that were starting up or expanding operations in Singapore, thereby suggesting that "collective efforts to improve various aspects of maritime Singapore are paying dividends."  Livestock carrier Oceanic Lifestock, a subsidiary of the Australian Wellard Group, has chosen Singapore as its operations base. Norway's DnB NOR has formed an 11-strong equity research and securities sales team in the republic, at a time when other financial institutions are downsizing or freezing headcount. And international shipbroker Clarksons consolidated some of its Asian operations in Singapore.

The republic has also made further inroads in marine insurance, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua concluded. Earlier this year, the world's second-largest reinsurer, Swiss Re, decided to make Singapore its Asian marine reinsurance base. Two new Lloyd's Syndicates, Atrium and Argenta, have recently established their presence here. And Shipowners' Club, a member of the 13-strong International Group of P&I Clubs, has also decided to set up its only Asian office in Singapore to provide a full suite of services, bringing the number of Lloyd's Syndicates and International Group P&I Clubs in Singapore to 13 and 4 respectively.  [21/09/09]

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