Forum: Singapore can use technology to attract manufacturers affected by US-China trade war

A Chinese employee works on vehicle parts at a factory in Jinan, China, on May 11, 2019.
A Chinese employee works on vehicle parts at a factory in Jinan, China, on May 11, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

Recent reports indicate that Singapore is facing tougher economic times and that workers' year-end bonus may be affected. Jobs may even be trimmed.

The trade war and the hostile economic environment have been blamed. But we can innovate and make the best of the situation.

The China-US trade war has forced manufacturers to explore new sites for their plants. Traditionally, they have chosen lower-cost countries in the Asean region as alternatives.

The high labour costs and the high overheads here have deterred them from exploring Singapore as a manufacturing base. Why doesn't Singapore use technology to attract the manufacturers?

Instead of sticking to labour-intensive methods, why not try using robotics and automation to overcome the labour shortage?

Singapore can take high-yield products and see how to offer efficient distribution, and improve the quality through more streamlined processes. It can also lower the cost base too, by offering lower overhead costs to allow the manufacturers to come here, a la Dyson and other companies that make higher-margin items.

Next, can Singapore be a substitute for Hong Kong in the finance world? Surely Singapore has the talent and the networks in this field to offer the region, including China. But to do this, Singapore has to adopt more efficient processes, including a simple electronic payment system that must be as good as, if not better than, theirs. Singapore needs to keep training highly skilled workers to meet the needs of the world market.

Singapore has also shown it can organise large events smoothly, and there is very efficient infrastructure with well-developed means to get products to the market and into the hands of customers quicker than others.

But we need a hungry workforce, one which is talented, motivated and willing to innovate to keep our rice bowls full. The ball is in our court and we should seize the opportunity.

Peter Loon Seng Chee