Sweden, Singapore stand together for free trade

This year marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Sweden. While our countries are far apart geographically, we share many similarities. Singapore and Sweden are both small, open, knowledge-based and export-oriented economies.

Like Singapore, Sweden is a staunch supporter of free trade. The economic and social wellbeing of our nations are dependent on a transparent, rules-based and open global trade regime. For us, free trade is the only way forward.

But while free trade may be indisputable in Singapore, free trade is increasingly being criticised elsewhere. Today we see a trend in which more people are demanding that the doors we have fought for centuries to open, now be closed to both people and trade with the rest of the world.

Some people feel that their jobs are being destroyed by global competition and technological developments - and therefore that their life situations are under threat.

The Swedish government understands that frustration. Essentially, it is about increased inequalities, a lack of security and inadequate welfare. Stagnating or even declining real wages are a reality for many employees in large parts of the EU and the US. At the same time, the safety nets for those who lose their job are often too weak.

But directing anger at trade and development is not only the wrong approach - it is a dangerous approach. The Swedish model shows that development and security go hand in hand. Secure people are not afraid of progress.

The structural transformation that Sweden has undergone in recent decades has made us one of the world's leading innovation and industrial nations. Since 2014, 120,000 new jobs have been created in Sweden. Today, 1.3 million Swedes are directly or indirectly employed thanks to our exports - a third of the Swedish work force.

In Sweden, the labour movement acknowledges that structural transformation of the labour market is good for workers. Workers compete on the basis of knowledge and skills, which means that globally competitive businesses are needed. Without free trade, Sweden risks missing out on jobs and losing out to global competition. In the long term, inefficient and unprofitable operations are devastating for wage earners and for our society.

The structural transformation that Sweden has undergone in recent decades has made us one of the world's leading innovation and industrial nations. Since 2014, 120,000 new jobs have been created in Sweden. Today, 1.3 million Swedes are directly or indirectly employed thanks to our exports - a third of the Swedish work force.

The Swedish government has adopted an ambitious export strategy aiming at increasing trade and boosting participation of Swedish companies in the global economy. Bilateral trade and investments in South-east Asia, the growth engine of the world, form an important part of this aim.

With the implementation of new progressive trade agreements, Swedish trade with South-east Asia and Swedish companies investing in the region would certainly grow.

More trade would benefit Singapore and Sweden, as well as the whole of South-east Asia, by creating new jobs and more prosperous societies. Here Singapore's role as a regional financial hub and a gateway to the region is key.

Sweden supports the earliest possible implementation of the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement as the agreement forms an important building block towards the possibility of a future region-to-region EU-Asean Free Trade Agreement.

Sweden firmly believes that we must push for more open and free trade through a progressive free trade agenda that not only aligns with, but also supports, the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

For us it is a given that in trade policy we must stand up for human rights, our environment, people's health and our democratic space. Based on this approach, more free trade means more prosperity for all.

•The writer is Sweden's Minister of EU Affairs and Trade.

•The Sweden-Southeast Asia Business Summit will take place in Singapore tomorrow and Thursday .

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2016, with the headline 'Sweden, S'pore stand together for free trade'. Print Edition | Subscribe