S'pore must adapt to realities of Covid-19 world, says Chan Chun Sing

Minister outlines four factors that will impact the pace of economic recovery

The improvement in Singapore's economy in the third quarter of 2020 shows that the Republic is on the right path. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

As Singapore embarks on its long road to recovery, businesses and workers must adapt to the new realities of the Covid-19 world, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

The improvement in Singapore's economy in the third quarter of this year shows that the Republic is on the right path, he said.

Singapore's economy, while showing a contraction, beat estimates as it shrank by 5.8 per cent year on year in the third quarter - an improvement from the 13.3 per cent decline seen in the previous quarter that was Singapore's worst quarterly performance on record.

Speaking at a media briefing, Mr Chan said it is only a matter of time before Singapore's economy returns to pre-Covid-19 levels in terms of economic numbers.

But the qualitative aspect of the Republic's recovery - or how it recovers - is more important, given how the economy would have changed permanently, he said. Supply chain patterns and the surge in digitalisation and technological advancements would be different.

Singapore's economic measures must keep pace with the demands of the market, which is why it is imperative to help businesses and workers move towards new growth areas, Mr Chan said.

The Government's support measures towards businesses and workers will also pivot, he added, noting that it is not possible for the Government to indefinitely support business models that are no longer relevant and competitive in a Covid-19 world.

"Going forward, our support must be more targeted and focus on positive outcomes for our businesses and workers," he said.

The authorities will help businesses strengthen existing capabilities and build new ones, expand into new overseas markets, as well as digitalise and access new opportunities through online platforms, Mr Chan said.

He outlined four factors that will impact the pace of economic recovery domestically and globally.

Two of the factors are within Singapore's control: The country's coronavirus infection rates and the ability of its businesses and workers to pivot and adapt to the Covid-19 world, he noted.

"If we are able to continue to keep our infection rates low, we will be able to resume more activities and increase our interactions with the rest of the world. This will require the continued cooperation of our people to adhere to the prevailing measures," Mr Chan said.

But global developments - the geopolitical dynamics between big countries such as the United States and China, and the recurring waves of infection globally - are outside Singapore's control, he said.

"We do not yet know how the new US administration will approach its relations with China. But we hope both sides will dial down tensions and return to a more open and inclusive global economic order," Mr Chan said, adding that the path forward lies in greater interdependence, and not independence.

Meanwhile, recurring waves of infection abroad, leading to new lockdowns, will also have a knock-on effect on global demand, which will affect export-oriented economies like Singapore, he said.

"So long as we manage the controllable factors well, and mitigate the risks of those beyond our control, I believe we can recover more quickly," Mr Chan said.

Singapore now has the testing capabilities, isolation facilities and healthcare capacity to manage risks from imported cases. This will ensure they do not infect the local community, which will allow the Republic to further open its borders.

This would allow more Singapore-based residents and workers to travel overseas for work, and for the necessary professionals and workers who drive the nation's economy and support its social services to come in, he added.

In addition, Singapore will also be able to progressively host more significant meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (Mice) events to maintain its position as a leading business node, Mr Chan said, adding that he will share more on this at the TravelRevive trade show tomorrow.

"The number of imported cases may rise, but the risk to the local community will be mitigated," said the minister.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2020, with the headline S'pore must adapt to realities of Covid-19 world: Chan Chun Sing. Subscribe