Singapore can help EU firms looking to expand in Asia amid shifts in global economy: Heng Swee Keat

(From left) The EU Ambassador to Singapore Barbara Plinkert, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, European Chamber of Commerce president Federico Donato and Pernod Ricard Singapore's managing director Cedric Retailleau at a Europe Day luncheon on Ma
(From left) The EU Ambassador to Singapore Barbara Plinkert, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, European Chamber of Commerce president Federico Donato and Pernod Ricard Singapore's managing director Cedric Retailleau at a Europe Day luncheon on May 3, 2019.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - The economic centre of gravity is shifting globally and this will likely continue as countries in Asia transform and embrace economic development, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Friday (May 3).

Among them are major countries such as China and India, and Singapore can continue to play a role by being an "Asia 101" that is able to help multinationals looking to expand in growing markets in this region, added Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

Such companies include European businesses that already have a base here, Mr Heng told about 200 people, including government representatives and leaders of major European and Singaporean firms, at a Europe Day luncheon in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Scotts Road.

"The fact we have the rule of law, protection of intellectual property and the agreements that we have with the European Union on investment protection, will serve as an important base to assure companies that we stand by what we say and do what we have committed to," said Mr Heng.

In 2018, trade in goods and services between the EU and Singapore hit new heights, reaching the €100 billion mark, EU ambassador Barbara Plinkert said in a speech at the event.

Currently, more than 10,000 European companies use Singapore as their regional hub.

The EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Investment Protection Agreement, as well as the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, approved by the EU Parliament in February, will help strengthen economic and political ties between both sides also, she added.

 
 
 
 

European Chamber of Commerce president Federico Donato said the FTA allows both sides to build on existing ties, with the EU being Singapore's third-largest trading partner.

Mr Heng hopes the FTA can not only pave the way for agreements between EU and other Asean member states, but between EU and Asean itself.

The EU and Asean share many common positions, and both seek to integrate the economies of their member states into a single market, said Mr Heng.

He added: "The rapidly growing markets in Asia present opportunities for even greater collaboration between the two communities."

Outlining three key thrusts of Singapore's economic transformation, he expressed hope that EU companies will play an active role in them.

First, Singapore will invest significantly in research and innovation, building a vibrant start-up ecosystem for new ideas.

Second, the Republic will invest in its people "to empower businesses with a skilled workforce".

Third, it will build global partnerships and ensure it has a conducive environment for businesses to flourish.

Mr Heng stressed the importance of Singapore remaining an attractive investment destination, adding: "I want to assure you that at the core of our fiscal system is our commitment to keep the overall tax burden low."

"In 2019 and beyond we hope to see more European companies leverage Singapore's position as a global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise, to access new opportunities and achieve sustainable growth."

Asked about slowing global growth in a question-and-answer session, Mr Heng noted the impact from US-China trade friction, adding that the competition between the superpowers is a strategic one and will not be resolved once and for all.

But, he added, the rest of the world can take steps to provide greater investment certainty to businesses.

At the event, the European Chamber of Commerce (Eurocham) also announced a new addition to its ranks, the Central and Eastern European Chamber of Commerce, which was registered last week.

Its first president is founder of the Bulgaria-Singapore Partnership Alliance Martin Angelov, and its board members include representatives from Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Singapore. Its executive director is EuroCham project manager Kristina Anguelova.