With uncertainties mounting and trade tensions growing, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing yesterday asked businesses to consider taking a bold option.
They should venture into new emerging markets to fully tap the opportunities in the global economy, he said. "They need to be ready to take the risk, and the Government will do what we can to help the internationalisation of our companies," said Mr Chan at the National Centre for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Executive Forum, held at the Microsoft Singapore office in Marina Boulevard.
Mr Chan acknowledged that muted global demand is expected to weigh on Singapore's growth this year, with recent data suggesting that outward-oriented sectors will likely remain weak.
But he said that as companies take risks and expand, Singaporeans should stay alert and not be afraid.
"While the journey ahead of us may be challenging, we have what it takes to tackle these challenges head-on."
He listed some strengths that could help Singapore tap opportunities being created among uncertainties."Singapore continues to be a safe harbour for companies looking to invest in the region and we are seen as a hub for talent, intellectual property protection, innovation and research and development. We maintain a principled stance on issues, even in an increasingly polarising environment due to ongoing trade tensions, and we continue to stand for free trade," said Mr Chan.
He added that Singapore is working to uphold the rules-based international trading system, with a priority to work with like-minded partners, to ensure a predictable and stable environment. For instance, Singapore is playing a role in ongoing discussions on reforming the World Trade Organisation to ensure it stays relevant, and working with Australia and Japan to lead the creation of new rules on e-commerce.
Singapore is also investing heavily in educating and training a skilled workforce that can take advantage of new opportunities created.
Digitalisation and new technologies could help firms scale up and internationalise, he noted. "The potential on the digital economy front is tremendous and our people must be ready. The digital economy is the next frontier for the Singapore economy to transcend our geography and geographical size," he said.
Companies and workers also have a part to play, he added. "Companies must similarly invest in their own training structures and processes to ensure that potential employees have the right skills for the job."
At a fireside chat after the speech, Mr Chan said that it is important to take everyone along in a country's economic journey. He said: "There is a more important reason for us to do this beyond economics. In many countries, in times of rapid disruption, the middle-income workers get left behind… and they do not see the benefits of globalisation. They begin to ask themselves why they should support these new technologies and openness to global trade. There will be a local pushback with global consequences."
BE READY TO SEIZE OPPORTUNITIES
The potential on the digital economy front is tremendous and our people must be ready. The digital economy is the next frontier for the Singapore economy to transcend our geography and geographical size.
MR CHAN CHUN SING, Minister for Trade and Industry.
Such pushback can take the form of a greater desire for populist leaders who can promise solutions by shutting out competition and withdrawing from the global system.
"To keep a country cohesive and progressive, we need to get on a positive spiral, muster the political will and resources to help everyone keep pace," he said.
Mr Chan said business leaders can help shape their respective governments' stance towards greater digital integration and upholding a rules-based global economy. "Not all governments have an equal and clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the digital space. Some still look at the digital economy from the lenses of the conventional economy... consumption of data is seen as subtractive: If I have it, you can't have it," he said.
"We run the risk that in today's world, if we apply the wrong concept and fragment, fracture or Balkanise the data space, then we are all poorer for it."