ST Global Outlook Forum

ST Global Forum: Singapore stands by trade, integration, says Vivian

Dr Balakrishnan (at right) at a panel discussion during The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum yesterday. With him is ST associate editor (global affairs) Ravi Velloor, who was the moderator. The foreign minister noted that within Singapore, the Gove
Dr Balakrishnan (at right) at a panel discussion during The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum yesterday. With him is ST associate editor (global affairs) Ravi Velloor, who was the moderator. The foreign minister noted that within Singapore, the Government is tending to the two issues that matter most to the people, especially those most disadvantaged by free trade: a sense of identity as well as good jobs.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

It's committed to wide-ranging ties with nations; Asean unity and centrality crucial for S'pore

Singapore is committed to trade and global integration and maintaining its longstanding, wide-ranging relationships with other nations amid sweeping changes to the world order, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

The Republic will also continue to emphasise Asean centrality and unity as the grouping is a "crucial feature" of Singapore's future, Dr Balakrishnan told about 350 people attending The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum yesterday.

Addressing a question on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation free trade pact US President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to withdraw from as soon as he takes office on Jan 20, Dr Balakrishnan said: "Trade is our life blood so whether it's TPP or the Free Trade Agreement of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), these are things we believe in on a fundamental level.

"We will do our part to bring such a larger vision into effect," said Dr Balakrishnan at the annual forum held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

In his keynote speech, Dr Balakrishnan noted that the surprise outcomes of the Brexit referendum in Britain and the United States presidential election showed that "the global consensus on the benefits of free trading and economic integration has been ruptured".

 
 
 

"When people are frightened and disadvantaged, it's very easy for them to put the blame on free trade."

But rather than trade, it is a technological revolution that is upending the established world order, said the minister. "Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg are the robber barons of the digital age," he said. "The real challenge for us is to democratise the new technologies, to commoditise the tools, the skills in education so that a new middle class will rise using these technologies."

He emphasised that, despite the xenophobic and isolationist tendencies in the world, "the truth is we are all interconnected". Interdependence and collaboration, rather than independence and rivalry, are necessary in the transboundary fights against problems like climate change and diseases like Zika.

The foreign minister urged Asean to build such interdependence as it grows into a global economic powerhouse. By 2030, he said, the combined economic output of the 10-nation bloc of 620 million people may increase by four to five times - from the current US$2.5 trillion (S$3.6 trillion) to US$10 trillion - making the region the fourth-largest economy after the European Union, China and the US.

"Asean is going to be the sleeper hit of the next few decades," said Dr Balakrishnan.

Within Singapore, he noted that the Government is tending to the two issues that matter most to the people, especially those most disadvantaged by free trade: a sense of identity as well as good jobs.

"We need to recognise the interests of all the groups in our society, and ensure that no one is left behind," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"Without safety nets, you can't pursue global interconnection and free trade," he said. "Singapore recognises it is a defining feature of the new economy - it means constantly paying attention to the people."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore stands by trade, integration: Vivian'. Print Edition | Subscribe