SINGAPORE - The Republic stands to gain from the new opportunities offered by the worldwide shifts caused or accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, said Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong on Friday (Aug 27).
The opportunities lie in global trends such as the increased focus on digitalisation, connectivity and innovation; the fast-growing green economy; and the race to transform local companies into global champions, he said.
At the same time, Mr Gan said, the global economic landscape is becoming more challenging amid increasing fragmentation on multiple fronts. These include technology and trade, accelerating industry consolidation and churn, and increasing consumer preference for e-commerce and virtual experiences.
"These shifts will cause a great impact on the trajectory of the global economy. Singapore can leverage opportunities that come our way, and emerge stronger from the pandemic," Mr Gan said at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) Economic Dialogue 2021 held virtually on Friday.
He said that to take advantage of these global trends, Singapore needs to turn itself into a "virtually unlimited" marketplace of goods and services that allows businesses to participate in new markets and reach customers from all over the world.
This can also encourage and support more virtual training, career development, and collaboration tools for the local workforce.
"We need to create new virtual frontiers to transcend the constraints of our physical size and physical boundaries," the minister said.
To seize new growth opportunities in sustainability and the green economy, Singapore can grab first-mover advantage in areas such as carbon trading and services, low-carbon technologies, green financing and sustainable infrastructure.
"We will help our existing industries transition to a low-carbon economy, and enable our companies to create new sustainable products and solutions."
Mr Gan said large enterprises make disproportionate contributions to Singapore's economy, whether it is in terms of gross domestic product, employment or productivity.
Many promising home-grown unicorns - privately-held start-ups valued at more than US$1 billion ($1.35 billion) - have emerged over the years, including Grab Holdings, PatSnap, SEA Group and Razer. They have the potential to expand further and compete successfully in the global market.
"The challenge ahead of us is to groom the next generation of future champions and soon-to-be unicorns, or 'soonicorns' for short. This is important in order to provide our people with new and exciting opportunities for many years to come."
Mr Gan said Singapore must adapt to the ongoing shifts in global supply chains that challenge its position as a global financial and trading hub.
"Many companies around the world have started to localise their business operations in favour of national and regional supply chains. This can be problematic for a small and open economy like ours, as we rely on global trade to survive.
"Our challenges are exacerbated by nationalistic sentiments and growing geopolitical and economic tensions, which have turned countries inwards and created an increasingly fragmented world."
He said as the world transitions from pandemic to endemic, it is even more important to strengthen global trade and investment linkages to support economic recovery.
The issue of supply chain resilience was also discussed with US Vice-President Kamala Harris during her visit to Singapore this week, he added.
Singapore has adopted a multi-pronged strategy that builds resilience at the national, industry and firm levels, and will continue to work with partners in the region to keep trade flowing and safeguard the open, rules-based multilateral trading system, he said.
Despite the disruptions to lives, jobs and the economy due to the pandemic, there are also bright spots and new opportunities to look forward to. "As long as we maintain our can-do spirit, remain nimble and adaptable, and embrace new ideas and innovation, I am confident that Singapore will continue to thrive."
After Mr Gan's speech, this year's recipients of the Economist Service scholarship, MTI Best Thesis and MTI Book Prize were announced.