SINGAPORE must "brace for greater economic headwinds in the year ahead", though the country's strong fundamentals and strategies will help it tackle these challenges, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said on Wednesday morning at the National Center for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Executive Forum.
He noted that global growth is expected to slow, while uncertainties and downside risks remain in the form of trade tensions, slowing growth in China, Brexit-related uncertainties, and pressures on the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Weaker global demand is expected to weigh on Singapore's growth this year, with recent data suggesting that outward-oriented sectors will likely remain weak, he added.
Against a backdrop of continued global uncertainty, Singaporeans "should stay alert but not afraid", he said, laying out reasons for confidence.
First, Singapore has strong fundamentals. It remains "a safe harbour for companies looking to invest in the region", with a principled stance amid increased polarisation and a belief in free trade.
Second, Singapore is working to uphold the rules-based international trading system, playing a role in WTO reform discussions and leading efforts to create new rules on e-commerce, alongside Australia and Japan.
Third, Singapore is investing heavily in educating and training a skilled workforce that can take advantage of new opportunities created.
Speaking to an audience of public and private sector representatives from the Asia-Pacific region, Mr Chan highlighted the role that businesses themselves must play. Firms must invest in their own training structures and processes, and explore new markets, he said.
"Finally, business leaders also have an important role to help shape their respective governments’ stance towards greater digital integration and the upholding of a rules-based global economy," he added. "There's a role for all of you present here as business leaders."
Not all governments have the same understanding of the digital economy, and may "wrongly" apply ideas of "artificial geographical boundaries" to the concept of data, treating it like a physical commodity, said Mr Chan.
But sharing data does not deprive others of it. Rather, the more that data is allowed to be integrated, the greater the opportunities, he said.