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Johor-Singapore SEZ: Passport-free travel hailed as ‘game-changer’ but observers debate size, scope of proposed zone

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Mr Tan explained that this approach is more realistic because the government would need to ensure that access roads in these industrial zones are well connected to the land checkpoints, airports as well as ports. 

“There are a lot of ‘jig-saw puzzles’ to be pieced up to ensure efficient flow of people and goods,” said Mr Tan. 

“Focus will be the key. It is perhaps more beneficial to do it in phases lest the scope for the initiative become too diverse right from the beginning,” he added. 

Mr Ishmael Ho, chief executive of Malaysian real estate firm Ho Chin Soon Research, agreed that the area within Johor to be designated as the SEZ should be a “smaller zone within Iskandar Malaysia”.

“To designate the whole of Johor state is too big, even the whole of Iskandar Malaysia is too big. It needs to be a smaller zone (so it has a higher chance of being successful),” Mr Ho told CNA.  

JOHOR SULTAN AS KING WILL BE KEEN TO ACCELERATE SEZ DISCUSSIONS 

Regardless of the size of the SEZ, analysts agree that both governments need to demonstrate political will to see through the project in the short term. This is particularly important with important leadership transitions for both countries on the horizon. 

The Sultan of Johor is set to ascend as Malaysia’s king from Jan 31 while Singapore’s PM Lee has said he will hand over leadership to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong “if all goes well” by the People Action Party’s 70th anniversary in November 2024.

Mr Ong said that with the Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim set to become the Agong, there will be more regional interest in the southern state and that he will be keen to accelerate discussions to further develop his home state. 

“I think that the Sultan of Johor will have very strong opinions on the SEZ, especially in terms of how quickly it is being implemented. If the pace of rolling out the details of the MOU is too slow for his liking, he will have no qualms about making his views known, either privately to the (Malaysian) PM or publicly through media interviews or through public communication by the Johor Crown Prince,” said Mr Ong. 

“The heat will be on (Economy) Minister Rafizi Ramli to deliver on the scope and scale of the MOU and also how fast it can be rolled out,” he added. 

Both countries had first announced that they would set up a task force to study establishing an SEZ at the 16th meeting of the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia in July 2023.

Three months later, at the Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat in Singapore, Mr Lee described the proposed SEZ as a “substantial and promising project” which, among other things, should lead to smoother trips for people working on either side of the Causeway.

After Thursday’s signing ceremony, both sides agreed to work towards a full-fledged agreement on the Johor-Singapore Special Economic Zone and provide an update at the 11th Malaysia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat, to be held in Malaysia this year. 

KGV International’s Mr Tan maintained that both leadership transitions should not trigger “fundamental change” in the SEZ agreement. 

“Johor Sultan has been a strong advocate of a closer collaboration with Singapore and will continue to be a powerful enabler for such an initiative to be successful,” he said. 

“The fourth generation (4G) leaders in Singapore (led by DPM Wong) are also practical and have been engaging with Johor state and Malaysia federal administrations. They are likely to continue the win-win stance in the SEZ initiative,” added Mr Tan. 

Mr Ong added that the success of the SEZ is also dependent on how the leading ministries for each country are able to synergise efforts from fellow cabinet members as well as government agencies to conceptualise ideas and execute them effectively. 

“The Ministers responsible, Rafizi Ramli and Gan Kim Yong, need to involve as many ministries and agencies as possible in a strategic and consultative manner, so that as many value-added ideas and initiatives can be discussed and put into the framework of the SEZ in a timely fashion,” he added. 

Article was originally published from here

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