North Korean leader Kim Jong-un touring the Jubilee Bridge in Singapore on June 11, 2018.
SINGAPORE — Back in 2013, North Koreans could get a taste of Singapore at Benata Business Centre in Pyongyang, where delicacies like chicken rice and laksa were served.
Those who wanted to whip up these meals at home could buy ready-made pastes at the supermarket in the same building.
Set up by Singaporean J Cheang, 46, the four-storey building also houses a restaurant, a gymnasium and a spa.
Mr Cheang's endeavour to promote Singapore culture and businesses in one of the world's most isolated countries met a roadblock in November last year, when Singapore cut economic ties with North Korea in line with toughened sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.
"We had to stop trading directly with North Korea. Our local operators there (now) source their wares from other Chinese firms," Mr Cheang, 46, told TODAY.
With the historic meeting on June 12 between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and United States President Donald Trump done and dusted, intrepid Singapore businesses are anticipating trade and investment opportunities in North Asia's last untapped market – although when such doors may open remains anybody's guess.
This was especially after Mr Kim was reported by his country's state media to have been impressed by "clean and beautiful" Singapore after taking a city tour the night before the summit.
The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) said the Trump-Kim summit could help bring lasting peace to North-east Asia. "This will provide crucial conditions for further trade and investments in the economic development of Democratic Republic of North Korea," said its chief executive Ho Meng Kit.
Singapore had trade links with North Korea for many years until last November, said Mr Ho. In 2015, Singapore was North Korea's sixth largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching US$29 million (S$39 million). But last year, the total amount of trade between the two countries amounted to just S$700,000.
The SBF has led missions to North Korea in the last decade and Mr Ho said its third and last visit was in 2012, which also included a visit to the Chinese city of Dandong, along the North Korean border.
In the wake of the joint statement by both leaders – with Mr Trump committing to provide security guarantees while Mr Kim committed to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula – the SBF does not foresee any immediate impact for Singapore businesses until international sanctions are lifted. It will continue to monitor developments.
"Over the longer term, as North Korea pursues a new path of economic advancement and engagement, it will be a new emerging market which will likely present some opportunities for our companies," said Mr Ho.