Singapore must remain open to benefit from Asia's growth: DPM Heng

SINGAPORE can contribute to and benefit from Asia's growth only if it remains open and connected to the world, while forging new partnerships and evolving its approaches, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said.

"By strengthening cooperation with countries in the region and the world, we will be in a better position to emerge stronger from Covid-19," Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said in a keynote speech at the virtual FutureChina Global Forum on Tuesday.

He noted that the global economy is going through its worst recession in a century, with global order coming under strain and globalisation being "on the retreat" as the Covid-19 pandemic wears on.

Even so, Mr Heng gave the commitment that Singapore will continue to promote regional cooperation and deepen its bilateral relationships.

On the movement of goods, Mr Heng touched on the need to work closely with like-minded partners to keep Singapore's trade lines and supply chains open, noting that Asean and China are committed to mitigating the impact of Covid-19 on trade and investment.

At the same time, Singapore is entering into digital economy agreements with partner countries.

Meanwhile, Singapore is also reopening its borders gradually and carefully, and the first green travel lane with China was launched in June for essential business and official travel.

Mr Heng said Asia's outlook remains bright, due to its strong economic fundamentals, stemming from the necessary reforms undertaken after the Asian Financial Crisis and Global Financial Crisis.

For the region to remain vibrant, he said countries must remain open and connected to the world and make adjustments so that globalisation works for all. Businesses, too, must foster partnerships to emerge stronger from the crisis, he added.

In an uncertain economic environment brought on by the pandemic, many workers are anxious about their jobs and the benefits of economic openness, Mr Heng noted.

"But we must not undermine what has made us successful, by closing ourselves off from the world," he said. "To ensure that the benefits of globalisation remain beneficial to all countries, we will have to restructure our economies and upskill our workers."

In Singapore, the government is adjusting its employment policies, upskilling workers and strengthening its social safety nets to ensure they continue to serve the interests of Singaporeans, he said.

China, too, is continuing to reform its economy, and President Xi Jinping has spoken about how the domestic market for goods and services and "international circulation" must reinforce each other in the country's new economic model, Mr Heng noted.

With the restructuring of global supply chains in a post-Covid-19 world, he said South-east Asia can be an attractive choice for companies considering a "China Plus One" strategy, noting that the Asean region has become China's top trading partner for the first time this year.

Besides manufacturing, the digital economy and infrastructure development also offer ample opportunities in South-east Asia, Mr Heng added.

In a time of rapid change, he said it is hard for any company to deal with it alone, making the case for partnerships to help deal with the turbulence and seize new opportunities.

In Singapore's case, economic transformation is underway through the tripartite partnership between the government, unions and businesses, Mr Heng said, and trade associations and chambers as well as cross-border collaborations can help businesses in the Republic to grow.