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Belt and Road

Singapore aims to be hub for Belt and Road deal signings

City-state can contribute banking and legal services, finance minister tells neighbors

Singapore, a Southeast Asian financial and legal hub, aims to connect infrastructure builders with experts and financiers.
Singapore, a Southeast Asian financial and legal hub, seeks to connect infrastructure builders with experts and financiers.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- Singapore will provide Asian emerging nations banking and legal services for infrastructure projects through a new program meant to make the city-state a key player in contracts related to China's Belt and Road Initiative.

Given the huge demand for infrastructure, "few governments alone can have enough resources to meet these needs," Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told an audience including cabinet officials from Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei on Tuesday.

"I hope what we are doing can contribute to our region's development," the minister added.

The Infrastructure Asia program aims to support infrastructure like roads, harbors, airports, railroads and power stations. It envisions Singapore's financial and professional sectors being involved in projects from the planning stage, assessing initial budget and construction time estimates and working to keep costs from ballooning.

The strategically located Asian city-state aims to introduce planners to Singaporean banks, insurers and investment funds, and will also work with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Enterprise Singapore -- the government's small-business agency -- and the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the city-state's central bank, announced the start of the program on Tuesday. 

Singapore hopes to profit from the region's enormous infrastructure demand. The city-state is already a center for finance and arbitration in Asia, hosting international banking groups, including regional player DBS Group Holdings, law firms and big state-backed investment companies GIC and Temasek Holdings.

Developing Asia spends only about $881 billion a year on infrastructure, well below an estimated annual need of $1.34 trillion from 2016 through 2020, according to the ADB. Singapore's support could encourage more investment and help spending catch up with demand.

Despite this need, China's Belt and Road Initiative has raised concerns that countries unable to repay massive project debts could become beholden to Beijing. Sri Lanka, for example, ceded control of a strategic port to China.

Large infrastructure involves many companies and government-linked bodies, resulting in tangled and complex contracts from which more than a few lawsuits have arisen.

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