The Straits Times says

Charting the future of Singapore's past

The composition of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) reveals the expected presence of representatives of the three components of Singapore's tripartite system: the state, business and labour. The business sector is represented by a mixture of voices from industry who are expected to articulate the experiences and expectations of both large and small enterprises and the varied challenges of operating in global and domestic markets.

Diversity in the CFE's make-up is apposite because of Singapore's need to position itself strategically in the increasing complexity of the global economy. In the past, first-rate physical infrastructure, a pro-business labour environment, political stability and a survivalist work ethic came together to propel Singapore beyond the economic reach of its regional and other competitors. Now, as countries far and near seek to catch up with Singapore's much-talked-about "economic miracle", the city-state has to be more than itself to retain its competitive edge. Hence the emphasis on the future in the CFE's very name.

Singapore has to come to terms with disruptive technologies, particularly robotics, and the weakening of external value-adding links in production chains as major developing partners enhance the capability to do more themselves. The globalised map of land, labour, capital and information is being redrawn with rapidity that will doom economic laggards.

Of course, change without a degree of continuity could pose its own dangers. Singapore's ability to attract foreign investors and retain them in the long run speaks of important choices that were correctly made. Citibank, Philips and Shell are among the global names that have maintained their stake in Singapore through good and bad times. What made them come and what makes them stay, even as opportunities beckon elsewhere, are precisely the kind of lessons to be drawn to help position the present for the future. In similar vein, the resilience of local icons ST Engineering and PSA International speaks of the ability of home-grown talent to compete in intensely globalised times. Singapore will need both foreign firms which went "native" and local companies that went global to sustain its economy. It should tap the experiences of these companies, present on the CFE.

Complicating matters, restructuring the economy means having to contend with birth rates that stymie the growth of the local labour force; residual domestic opposition to the entry of foreigners; and the overarching need to sustain an inclusive society in the face of global trends that exacerbate economic disparities within nations. The CFE will have to keep these imperatives in mind as it charts the future of Singapore, building on its past as the country heads into the post-SG50 era.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2015, with the headline 'Charting the future of Singapore's past'. Print Edition | Subscribe