US firms here remain confident despite virus impact

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing with Sandpiper Communications chief executive Emma Smith at a dialogue at the American Chamber of Commerce Singapore yesterday.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing with Sandpiper Communications chief executive Emma Smith at a dialogue at the American Chamber of Commerce Singapore yesterday.PHOTO: AMERICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE SINGAPORE

Even as the coronavirus outbreak continues to take a toll on businesses in Singapore, a large majority of member firms surveyed by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Singapore say they are not permanently repatriating foreign staff to their home countries or laying off employees.

Over half of the 225 businesses surveyed from Feb 12 to 18 report that the outbreak has affected their operations and revenues in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific, and many are changing their business plans for this year, said the survey, which was done in conjunction with Sandpiper Communications.

Still, the firms say the disruption is manageable, with many mitigating risk by cancelling staff travel, implementing precautionary protocols to protect their employees at work, and cancelling or postponing large-scale events.

The businesses surveyed also felt that the perception of the severity of the outbreak here is worse outside of the country than within it.

Addressing this point at the survey's launch yesterday, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said: "Some have asked why Singapore is reporting the cases and the numbers seem to be higher than other places. Is that to our disadvantage because we have a higher headline number? Our philosophy is we would rather know exactly what we are dealing with than pretend otherwise, or ignore evidence."

Mr Chan, who was speaking to business leaders at AmCham's office at Shaw Centre, also pointed out that it is not the absolute number that matters, but the rate of recovery and detection of new cases.

"In handling any disease outbreak... it can't be political or economic considerations taking precedence over medical evidence. Transparency is also of utmost importance," he added.

This was borne out in the survey, with 98 per cent of members saying they remain confident in Singapore as a business destination largely because of the Government's response to the outbreak.

Seventy-nine per cent believe the Government has been effective in addressing the potential economic impact.

The Government's efforts to stabilise the economy for small and medium-sized enterprises are also "reassuring as they are our partners", said Mr Dwight Hutchins, AmCham's chairman of the board of governors.

"To see the Government move so quickly with the Budget and other measures is reassuring as well."

But more effort needs to be made in the area of business preparedness, the survey found.

Prior to the virus outbreak, less than half of the companies surveyed had a formal disease outbreak response plan in place.

Even fewer are planning any changes to emergency preparedness protocols, even as half of the firms polled are in the stages of recovery planning at the time of the survey.

Grace Leong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2020, with the headline 'US firms here remain confident despite virus impact'. Print Edition | Subscribe