Singapore offers significant business opportunity for innovative N.C. companies, not only as a market in itself but as a key gateway to Asia-Pacific countries, Singapore’s ambassador to the United States told business, university and economic development leaders last Thursday in Raleigh.

“We are the largest investor today in China and India and a significant investor in countries around the world,” Ambassador H.E. Ashok Mirpuri said during a business roundtable co-hosted by the Research Triangle Regional Partnership with McChin Healthcare Solutions, a healthcare business consultancy.

“The companies that come to the U.S. are looking for innovation – they are looking for something special. I think that’s where North Carolina can offer possibilities for collaboration,” Mirpuri said.

Life sciences, health care, cleantech, data analytics and information technology are key areas of synergy and opportunity, but any company seeking to grow can benefit from doing business with Singapore, said Kim Chin, managing partner for McChin Healthcare Solutions.

“Our goal in hosting this event was to provide opportunities for companies, both in North Carolina and in Singapore, to develop viable and sustainable commercial relationships,” Chin said. “Part of the puzzle is for businesses here to understand what Singapore represents.”

Singapore is a small island nation off of southern Malaysia, only 276 square miles. But it is home to 5.5 million people and 5,000 multinational companies, and it is a key gateway to more than 600 million people in Southeast Asia, as well as China and India. The World Bank ranks Singapore the No. 1 place to do business in the world.

Technologically advanced, with broadband access for 99 percent of its population, Singapore is extremely business friendly and offers extensive support for companies, large and small, interested in entering Asian markets, Mirpuri said. Its container port, the busiest in the world, offers 200 shipping lines with links to 600 ports in 123 countries, and Singapore offers one of the most extensive networks of trade agreements in Asia.

The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA) enacted in 2004 was the United States’ first with an Asian country. Bilateral trade volumes climbed 70 percent to $67.9 billion in 2012 from $40 billion when USSFTA was enacted in 2004. The United States, Singapore and 10 other countries representing nearly 40 percent of global GDP have negotiated a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that, when ratified, would further expand market opportunities, he said.

North Carolina companies exported $688 million in goods and services to Singapore in 2013. Duke University, N.C. State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are actively involved in the country, operating a broad range of joint degree programs and research initiatives with universities there.

While companies from Singapore tend to flock to San Francisco and New York, that trend is shifting, opening opportunities for business with North Carolina, Mirpuri said.

N.C. companies would be well-served by pursuing those opportunities, said Matt Cox, a consultant leading Duke University’s telehealth program. He worked with Chin on a telemedicine partnership with a Singaporean company to help Singapore expand its access to U.S. radiologists.

“It’s a wonderful place to do business,” Cox said. “It’s very business friendly – the people, the environment, the culture. There is a lot of opportunity.”

Sean M. King, president of Align Global Consulting agreed. The company represents U.S. companies seeking to expand to global markets.

“Asia has obviously blossomed, but within Asia, Singapore is the crown jewel,” King said. “There is a tremendous infrastructure – it starts when you get off the airport at the finest airport in the world. From there you have a government that supports low tax policy, provides a fantastic workforce and a fantastic talent pool, and the resources they offer are tremendous. We’re very bullish on Singapore.”