Opportunities for Singapore despite global challenges: Chee Hong Tat

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chee Hong Tat speaking at the fifth edition of the RHT Asean summit on Oct 17, 2019.
Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chee Hong Tat speaking at the fifth edition of the RHT Asean summit on Oct 17, 2019.PHOTO: RHTLAW TAYLOR WESSING

He cites example of Dyson's plan to expand presence here even though it axed e-car project

Electrical appliance giant Dyson may have shelved some of its plans in Singapore, but it will still expand its presence in the Republic, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chee Hong Tat.

He added that there are also many opportunities in the region that Singapore can seize, even amid global uncertainties.

He was speaking at the fifth edition of the RHT Asean summit yesterday. The one-day summit brings together participants in the business and investment communities to discuss how to capitalise on opportunities in the region amid the ongoing trade war.

In his keynote address, Mr Chee touched on Dyson's recent announcement that it will cancel its plans to manufacture electric vehicles. The plans had included its maiden electric car plant running in Singapore by 2021. The firm first set up here in 2007.

He said: "We know that this will have minimal impact on their current operations and the workforce here in Singapore. They have about 20 employees from the automotive division, out of a total workforce of 1,200 in Singapore. These 20 employees will be affected by this decision and will be redeployed to alternative roles within Dyson."

He added that Singapore will continue to play a key role in Dyson's expansion plans.

"Dyson intends to increase its presence in Singapore by growing its core business in areas such as sensor technology, robotics and artificial intelligence. We continue to do business... maybe not in electric vehicles, but in other areas.

"Dyson is also looking to expand its research, manufacturing and commercial teams in Singapore, which will create more jobs for Singaporeans."

This is just an example of how Singapore is still able to attract investments and work with industry partners to grow the economy and create jobs, even with global economic uncertainties, Mr Chee said, adding that opportunities abound in the region.

"Despite (the) rather gloomy outlook, the silver lining is that South-east Asia still holds plenty of business potential and expansion opportunities for both countries in this region and companies." The bright spots include sectors such as automotive, financial services, construction, e-commerce and tourism, he said.

To take advantage of these opportunities, Singapore can continue to be a trusted partner to both local and international companies by having a pro-business environment regulated by the rule of law.

In his keynote address at the summit, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong pointed out that Singapore is ranked the third-least-corrupt nation in the world. "It's been our concerted effort over the years to build a strong legal system... We have a first-class judiciary, one that is not just fair, impartial and transparent, but very much at the cutting edge of legal development and legal pronouncements. And ultimately we have a strong Bar, one that we continue to nurture."

Mr Chee said Singapore should also continue to build on its extensive connectivity to deepen economic cooperation, strengthen regional integration and support multilateral institutions. It should pursue regional and bilateral free trade agreements, while deepening trade and investment links with China.

"We want to push for greater economic integration in Asean and this is done through advocating continued integration and trade liberalisation, (and) building capacity through technical assistance and infrastructure investment," he noted.

Lastly, talent is important, which means equipping the local workforce with digital skills while also attracting global talent, said Mr Chee.

"As business leaders, I hope you will also invest in your own training structures and processes to ensure that your employees have the right skills for the job. Our belief in Singapore is that economic transformation... must go hand in hand with workforce transformation and skills upgrade. It is not about replacing workers with technology, artificial intelligence or robots. It is about augmenting our workers with new skills, new technologies and new capabilities."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2019, with the headline 'Opportunities for Singapore despite global challenges: Chee Hong Tat'. Print Edition | Subscribe