Panel's report on future economy an 'important step'

Mr Iswaran speaking at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel yesterday. With him were (from left) Singapore Business Federation vice-chairman and panel moderator Gautam Banerjee, SBF chairman Teo Siong Seng, GIC group chief investment officer Lim Chow Kiat, an
Mr Iswaran speaking at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel yesterday. With him were (from left) Singapore Business Federation vice-chairman and panel moderator Gautam Banerjee, SBF chairman Teo Siong Seng, GIC group chief investment officer Lim Chow Kiat, and Applied Materials regional president (South-east Asia) and corporate vice-president Russell Tham. PHOTO: COMMITTEE ON THE FUTURE ECONOMY

But it won't be panacea for S'pore's economic challenges; path ahead is not fixed: Iswaran

The soon-to-be-finalised report of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is an "important step" in preparing Singapore for the future, but it will not be "a panacea" for the nation's economic challenges.

Mr S. Iswaran, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) and co- chair of the CFE, was speaking as part of a panel at a Singapore Business Federation-Committee on the Future Economy engagement event yesterday. More than 250 business representatives attended the event held at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel.

Mr Iswaran said the CFE recommendations, which are expected to be finalised in the first quarter of next year, will have important initiatives, but warned that the path ahead is not fixed. "We're going to have to embark on some important initiatives where we have a clear sense of direction, but you cannot be certain that the path we start on will remain unchanged as we go forward because there are many moving parts," he said.

Despite the uncertain outlook, there are some silver linings.

Mr Iswaran said Singapore's strength is its ability to "come together and pull key stakeholders together, address the issues and come up with a game plan".

Earlier in the day, he highlighted in his keynote speech the central place of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore's next phase of economic development, urging them to innovate and internationalise.

To achieve that, the Government has come up with a major initiative - the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs). Part of the $4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme, these are industry plans designed to upgrade SME capabilities and drive growth across 23 industries.

Three ITMs have been launched so far - for food services, retail and precision engineering.

Mr Iswaran urged SMEs to tap the ITMs, such as the $450 million National Robotics Programme.

The event yesterday was billed as one of the most important opportunities for businesses to engage with the committee.

During the question-and-answer session, some companies in industries that are perceived as less high- tech - such as traditional manufacturers and construction - laid bare their anxieties.

Mr Iswaran addressed a question posed by the construction industry, highlighting that construction remains important, particularly with the demand for infrastructure.

But he suggested looking into the integration of urban solutions, such as water and energy.

Mr Lim Chow Kiat, group chief investment officer of GIC and a member of the CFE, spoke on the same panel as the minister.

Drawing on his experience investing in companies around the world, Mr Lim said that innovation is more about business model than technology, emphasising that companies must create a business model of understanding what customers want.

He said the CFE had looked at Switzerland to determine areas in which Singapore was lacking. It found that internationalisation of companies was one area. "Our businesses need to have the ambition to build at least to the regional level," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2016, with the headline 'Panel's report on future economy an 'important step''. Print Edition | Subscribe