Singapore will continue seeking global integration to help companies grow, create jobs: Iswaran

Mr S. Iswaran said Singapore should continue its strategy of global integration to help companies grow and create jobs.
Mr S. Iswaran said Singapore should continue its strategy of global integration to help companies grow and create jobs.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore should guard itself against nativist tendencies that can harm its potential to boost economic growth and the prosperity of its people, said Mr S. Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations.

He said in spite of the coronavirus-induced recession, the Republic should continue to persevere with its strategy of global integration - supported by free trade agreements (FTAs) and digital economy agreements (DEA) - that help companies grow and create jobs for Singaporeans.

"Obviously we are in a challenging economic environment, and how we emerge from this is going to depend critically on the manner of our response. That is true for countries and for the global economy," Mr Iswaran told virtual participants of the Singapore Business Federation's (SBF) FTA Day on Thursday (Oct 22).

He said using this crisis as a reason or an excuse to retreat from free trade and openness might give us some short-term sense of righteousness.

"But in the long term it is going to do great harm to the potential for growth opportunities and the uplifting of living standards for our people. This is true whether you're a small country or a big country," he said.

Separately, in an interview with Bloomberg Television, Mr Iswaran said that Singapore is speaking with more countries on developing further trade deals.

“We’ve seen many partners want to do business with Singapore, and maybe even locate some of their regional headquarters here because of that network effect of our free-trade agreements,” he told Bloomberg.

The Republic is also looking at the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement while also negotiating bilateral arrangements, including those focused on the digital economy, he said.

SBF CEO Ho Meng Kit urged businesses to transform their businesses by taking advantage of the country's extensive network of FTAs that connect businesses to the global economy by lowering the barriers to trade and investment, providing greater regulatory certainty, and giving a them competitive advantage in foreign markets.

Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran (in blue suit) with Singapore Business Federation (SBF) office-bearers (from far left), Mr Collin Sim, assistant market development manager of Tee Yih Jia Food Manufacturing; Ms Priscilla Ng, mar
Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran (in blue suit) with Singapore Business Federation (SBF) office-bearers (from far left), Mr Collin Sim, assistant market development manager of Tee Yih Jia Food Manufacturing; Ms Priscilla Ng, market development manager of Tee Yih Jia Food Manufacturing; Mr Ho Meng Kit, chief executive of SBF; Ms Connie Kwan, co-founder and managing director of Aalst Chocolate; Mr Richard Lee, founder and CEO of Aalst Chocolate; and Mr S. Janarthana, deputy general manager of Makino Asia. PHOTO: SINGAPORE BUSINESS FEDERATION

"Businesses must not take for granted their current roles in the global value chains. They will need to internationalise to seize opportunities in new markets and diversify market-specific risks," he noted.

He said initiatives such as the recent enhancement of the Market Readiness Assistance Grant reflects on the Government's continued efforts to support businesses to pivot to overseas markets.

On behalf of local business leaders, Mr Ho urged the Government to ensure that Singapore remains open and connected to the global economy.

SBF in a statement said FTA Day aims to highlight how these trade agreements that represent about 85 per cent of the global economy help businesses here navigate pressing issues that impact supply chains, cross-border trade and investment. FTAs also build resilience in business processes.

FTAs form the basis of a rules-based bilateral and multilateral trading system, said SBF. They serve to improve the global competitiveness of our businesses by improving access into overseas markets, lowering export costs and creating a more stable business environment, it added.

The event put the spotlight on the benefits of digital cooperation initiatives, such as the DEAs, which establish digital trade rules and foster interoperability of standards and systems to support Singapore-based businesses in the digital economy.