Digitalisation, global connections and inclusive growth vital for S'pore to emerge stronger from Covid-19: Iswaran

Mr Iswaran also emphasised the importance of partnerships between the public sector and the private sector. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The pandemic has made it even more important for Singapore to maintain its global connections while continuing to innovate and digitalise, said Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran on Wednesday (Sept 16).

"With lockdowns and safe distancing measures in many countries, the ways in which we live, work and play have also been altered permanently.

"Many more are embracing e-commerce, accelerating the digital migration of businesses. Telecommuting, e-learning and online seminars have also become the norm.

"So, Covid-19 has reinforced the imperative for businesses and individuals to be digitally-ready. Businesses must... lay the digital foundation for future growth and competitiveness. Countries must do likewise," Mr Iswaran said.

Going digital does not just allow businesses to overcome short-term pandemic challenges, but also positions them to reap long-term economic benefits, added Mr Iswaran, who was speaking at a virtual event to mark DBS Digital Day.

"It allows businesses to connect to global markets... and expand their customer base. Businesses should therefore seize this opportunity to reorganise their resources, revamp their models and redesign customer engagement."

He noted that the Government recognises that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may need help in this area and has increased support.

For instance, the Grow Digital initiative launched in June under the SMEs Go Digital programme enables firms to tap overseas markets despite travel curbs by participating in e-commerce platforms. More than 1,400 firms are now transacting on these platforms.

Mr Iswaran added: "Emerging technologies such as blockchain, cloud and artificial intelligence present opportunities for innovation, with beneficial outcomes such as smarter and more transparent supply chains.

"Businesses which go digital can also obtain better insights through data and deliver more customised services and products to customers."

The pandemic has also underscored the importance of investing in digital connectivity infrastructure and cyber security, he said, noting that Singapore is on track to offer nationwide 5G coverage by 2025.

Besides innovating, Singapore also has to ensure it stays connected globally.

Said Mr Iswaran: "Covid-19 has led to profound disruptions in global trade and supply chains.

"This has forced both countries and businesses to think beyond cost efficiency and growth, to prioritise resilience, and against the backdrop of growing tensions between the major powers, the merits of free trade and global integration are increasingly being challenged by populist rhetoric."

He added: "While the pandemic has prompted some countries to look inwards, we believe that a more effective way to build resilience is through openness and greater diversification. The global alliance of nations must commit to keeping markets open and trade flowing."

Singapore has 25 free trade agreements that give firms preferential access, with lower tariffs and non-tariff barriers, to economies that represent more than 85 per cent of global gross domestic product.

It is also building a global network of digital partnerships, so firms can manage their platforms and digital services outside Singapore, he said.

Lastly, Mr Iswaran noted that growth has to be inclusive so that all segments of society can enjoy the benefits of going digital.

He said: "As interactions and commerce shift online, businesses will need to double down on efforts to equip their employees with tech-related skills and invest in tech talent to boost their competitiveness."

The elderly and the vulnerable will also more support. One thousand digital ambassadors are now helping stallholders adopt e-payment solutions and teaching seniors digital skills.

"Covid-19 will have an indelible impact on our economy and society. How well we emerge from this crisis will depend critically on how businesses, industries, the labour movement and governments come together and take the necessary steps to adapt, collaborate and build a firm foundation for the next normal," said Mr Iswaran.

Mr Iswaran added during a panel discussion that collaboration is vital. He said: "I cannot overemphasise the importance of partnerships between the public sector, the private sector and also within the private sector across domains.

"Some domains are moving faster, like logistics, financial services - you've already moved very far in this space. Others are a bit further behind and learning from each other is going to be a key part of this."

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