Singapore has become the latest country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to grant citizens of fellow member Burma visa-free travel, in a bilateral agreement that is set to take effect on 1 December.
The move, announced on Tuesday as Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong makes his first visit to Burma since the new National League for Democracy (NLD) government assumed power two months ago, will allow stays of up to 30 days for ordinary-passport holders from both countries.
Malaysia is now the only country in the ASEAN bloc that still requires visitors from Burma to apply for a visa for a short-term stay. Last year, however, the two countries agreed to exempt government officials and businessmen from this requirement.
Burma and neighbouring Thailand — which is home to millions of migrants from Burma — agreed in late 2013 to allow each other’s citizens to visit without visas if they entered via designated airports. Burma and Brunei reached a visa-waiver agreement the following year.
The Singaporean leader, who met with Burmese President Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, noted that relations between the two countries have been close since the days when they were both under British colonial rule.
This year marks 50 years of formal diplomatic relations, which were established in 1966, the year after Singapore became an independent nation.
Speaking at a dinner hosted by Htin Kyaw at the presidential palace in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, Lee stressed his country’s support for ongoing political reforms in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
“Over the last decade, during Myanmar’s transition to democracy, we have walked alongside Myanmar,” Singaporean daily The Straits Times quoted him as saying.
Earlier, Lee and Suu Kyi discussed efforts to boost tourism and Singaporean investment in Burma, the opening of a Singaporean vocational training institute in Rangoon, and a 1999 agreement between the two countries aimed at avoiding double taxation.
Singapore was Burma’s third-largest trading partner last year, according to official figures, with bilateral trade reaching US$2.6 billion in 2015, representing a surge of 9.6 percent over the previous year.
Singaporean investment in Burma was a total of $13 billion as of April of this year, making it the country’s second-largest investor.