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Anthony Quahe is inaugural president of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce (WA). Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian.
The West Australian Anthony Quahe is inaugural president of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce (WA). Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian.

The fall of Singapore in 1942 shook a young Australian nation from its complacency that Britain would forever be able to defend its empire.

Forced to change its view of Asia, and embrace America as its main military ally, the seminal moment was also oddly the start of deeper ties between WA and the island state.

"When the ships were leaving Singapore to escape the Japanese, they were headed for Perth," says Anthony Quahe.

He uses the anecdote not to dredge up uncomfortable memories but as a reminder of the long-standing links between Singapore and WA, which are often overshadowed by those with China, Japan and Korea.

Mr Quahe, head of Civic Legal and resident of Perth since 1988, former Tourism WA commissioner and past chairman of Celebrate WA, has recently added another string to his public service bow - becoming the inaugural president of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce (WA).

The chamber was formed on August 9 last year - Singapore's national day - to promote closer ties between Singapore and WA.

Reflecting its growing importance, the island state is Australia's fifth biggest trading partner, with total two-way trade of $21.4 billion last financial year.

Premier Colin Barnett recently highlighted the increasing pull Singapore is having on WA's resource and business community, when he declared the tiny island nation had surpassed Melbourne in its importance to local dealmakers and was rapidly "becoming WA's business centre in Asia".

"The law firms, the accounting firms, the marketing operations are building in Singapore, and Australian companies are sending their professional staff from Melbourne and Sydney to Singapore to service the WA mining industry, and the deals are being done in Singapore," he said at the time.

The WA Government opened a trade office in Singapore last year, closing one in Malaysia in the process.

Mr Quahe said the chamber started with 12 member companies, but was growing rapidly as it had signed a letter of understanding to be the Singaporean Stock Exchange's preferred communication channel to corporate WA.

He said paradoxically "familiarity" between the two territories had in the past meant a chamber was not thought necessary, but with the WA resource sector in particular looking to Singapore for capital, the timing was right.

"You add in all the factors recently such as the global financial crisis, the banks tightening up on credit, equity markets here in Australia perhaps not as optimistic as they have been," he said. "And then you add in the other side in Singapore, which is and has been a financial hub and is building itself up to be a stronger financial hub. When you put the two circumstances together they begin to coalesce."

Although the Singaporean economy is in recession, Mr Quahe said this was a short-term bump in a long-term relationship, and that Singaporean investors were hungry for deals in mining, oil and gas, and agriculture.

He said that although a tie-up between the Singaporean and Australian stock exchanges was rejected by Canberra in 2011, consolidation of regional exchanges was inevitable for them to remain competitive.

The Chamber will host a delegation of Singaporean oil and gas investors in Perth next week.