Making a living in a Covid-19 world

This is the transcript of a national broadcast by Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on how to keep Singapore's economy competitive so that businesses can prosper and good jobs can be created. The broadcast is the fourth in a series of six by ministers. The next broadcast is on Wednesday by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Fellow Singaporeans, Covid-19 has impacted our lives, livelihoods and lifelines, and it has aggravated already difficult global challenges.

Trade and investments have come down. People and businesses in many countries have lost confidence in globalisation and technology. They have been disrupted, and their governments have been unable to help them adjust. Bigger countries have been fighting over the tax revenues of global companies, and that has affected international competition for investments and jobs.

Countries are all doing their best to keep people safe and healthy, secure essential items, such as food and medicine, save jobs and businesses in the face of severe decline in demand and investments.

Singapore is not immune. Many Singaporeans have already lost their jobs. More job losses are expected in the coming months. Others have seen their incomes fall. It will be a tough job market in the coming years. Some businesses have closed. Many more are struggling. Most wonder how to survive, never mind thrive.

We cannot save every job and every business, but we will take care of every Singaporean. We will not let widespread unemployment erode the confidence and dignity of our people. We will grow new businesses and create good jobs for all Singaporeans.

This Government has committed almost $100 billion to care for every Singaporean, help save businesses and jobs. But it is not just about spending money.

What is even more important is our ability to plan, adapt and execute.

This is how we will do it.

IMMEDIATE PRIORITIES

Our immediate focus is jobs. We will create 100,000 jobs and training opportunities in the coming year. The range of jobs will include healthcare, early childhood education, transport, ICT (information and communications technology) and financial services. One hundred thousand jobs - that is three times our usual annual number. This is how many we will need, to help those coming out from schools, as well as those retrenched. We may well need to create more jobs, if the situation worsens.

We will also increase the capacity of our training institutions to equip more workers, especially mid-career ones, with new skills required for the new economy. This help will come to where you are. We will set up job centres in every town to match displaced workers to new jobs. We will work hard to make sure everyone who wants a job can get a job.

Many say the best way to save jobs is to resume our economic activities more quickly.

https://youtu.be/cdgz-mHYWQg

I understand. But opening up hastily and closing businesses again if infections spike once more, will be more disruptive to businesses and workers. Hence, let us resume safely, progressively and sustainably.

Even after reopening, we should not expect "business as usual". Some businesses will need to change their business models. We will help you to redesign your operations and serve new markets. Many F&B businesses like SaladStop! and Beauty In The Pot have launched delivery-friendly menus to serve new customers. Others still have viable business models. We will help you to rebound when demand picks up. We will support you to hire and train graduates and mid-career workers in advance. Logistics and professional services are examples of sectors where we are starting to do this.

LONGER-TERM GOALS

As we tackle the immediate challenges, we must also prepare for the future. The Future Economy Council, chaired by DPM (Deputy Prime Minister) Heng (Swee Keat), has been driving this for the last few years.

We will invest to develop our intangible strengths - what distinguishes us; our infrastructure - for they are key enablers; and above all, our people and businesses.

Intangible strengths

First, our intangible strengths. Over the years, many investors have chosen to site and expand their businesses here, in Singapore. They did not make this decision for the short term, nor did they choose Singapore because we have abundant natural resources, or because we are cheaper.

They chose us because of our strengths, which are not easy to replicate elsewhere. We are open, and connected with the world, we are trusted, we are united and stable as a society, and we have a skilled workforce.

For many countries, Covid-19 has accelerated the retreat from globalisation, and the erection of more protectionist barriers. We must resist these pressures. A less connected world means a poorer world and fewer opportunities for all. A less connected Singapore means fewer and poorer-quality jobs for us.

Even in a more protectionist, less connected world, we can still make a living and more.

We can build capabilities to play critical roles in global supply chains to produce high-quality products and services that others value. For example, we make four out of the world's top 10 drugs, we are the world's seventh-largest exporter of chemicals.

Our resilience comes from building networks, and diversifying our supply sources and markets. We will never be able to have everything we would possibly need, for the next crisis. Indeed, when lockdowns started across the world three months ago, many of our supply chains were disrupted, if not broken. Credit goes to the ingenuity and tenacity of our people for keeping us going. Our public and private sectors swung into action, reached out to their networks, opened new supply lines to bring back essentials like masks, PPE (personal protective equipment) and test reagents from across the world.

Individuals from PSA, SIA (Singapore Airlines), Sats, ST Logistics, NTUC, Sheng Siong and many more. Without all these unsung heroes, we would not have been able to live our lives as normally as we did in the last few months. Thank you all!

Another intangible strength is trust. Singapore is trusted globally. Throughout this crisis, we have also continued to show the world they can trust Singapore. We did not impose export restrictions or nationalise foreign investments. We kept our production lines open for global supply chains, including critical materials for surgical masks. We worked with companies to increase their production, so that we could meet Singapore's and the world's needs, and we facilitated the continued flow of essential goods and people through our ports and airports.

In uncertain times, our trusted brand counts for even more. Businesses have noticed.

When they make their next investments to diversify their global production bases, we will be in the running. Just as how we did not restrict exports during the 1970s oil crises - that enhanced our credibility later to establish Jurong Island as a global petrochemical hub.

Our investors have stood by us through this difficult period. We know the challenges investors face, with manpower flows and family reunions. We will work closely with you to overcome the challenges together. We will keep faith with you, as you have with us.

We will work to stay connected with the world, even as the world threatens to fragment and regress towards protectionism. Despite our size, we can show the way, if we have good ideas.

When promoting free trade, our initial partnerships with Brunei, Chile, and New Zealand eventually grew to become today's CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership). Together with New Zealand, we issued a joint ministerial statement to resist export restrictions and uphold global supply chains. From a party of two, we now have 11 subscriber countries, and counting.

We are building a network of digital economy partnerships. The partnerships will define the rules for competing and cooperating in the new economy. They will create opportunities for our companies to grow their overseas markets. We have concluded such agreements with Australia, Chile and New Zealand. More are on the way.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, we look forward to signing the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) agreement this year. This will cover all 10 Asean member states, plus Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. It will lower the cost of imports for our consumers, and exports for our producers.

These agreements and other FTAs (free trade agreements) open up new opportunities for our businesses, and will make us a more attractive base for investments to serve the region. This will signal to the world our confidence and determination to press on with regional economic integration.

Together with our trade association partners, we will translate these trade agreements into tangible advantages for our companies, through platforms like GlobalConnect@SBF.


Minister For Trade And Industry Chan Chun Sing. PHOTOS: MCI, ST AND LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE


Prima


Hai Sia Seafood


Markono Print Media

WORKERS NOT LEFT BEHIND

Our local companies are confident too. In my regular visits to our local companies, I have seen many big and small companies in different sectors actively transforming their businesses, such as Prima, Hai Sia Seafood, and Markono Print Media. What cheered me most is that they have upskilled their workforce in the process. They didn't leave the workers behind.

MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY CHAN CHUN SING, referring to local firms Prima, Hai Sia Seafood and Markono Print Media.

Infrastructure

Second, as we develop our intangible strengths, we will invest in the next generation of infrastructure for Singapore. While others have to tighten their belts, our past prudence gives us the means to continue investing in our future. This way we will gift the next generation a higher starting base, just as how our predecessors did for us.

We will press on to build our connectivity infrastructure to reinforce our position as a choice hub for business, finance, trade and data flows. This is why I am here today at our port, which is the heart of our trade connections to the world.

Our long-term plans remain sound. They include projects like Changi T5, Tuas Mega Port, and submarine cable hubs. Likewise, regional developments like Punggol Digital District, Jurong Lake District, Sungei Kadut Eco-District, Greater Southern Waterfront.

We will pace the timelines for these projects according to demand. But do not doubt this: We will get them all done. Together, they will create a vibrant and innovative Singapore for our children - full of opportunities, full of life.

We will also intensify the efforts to attract the best ideas and talent to compete on our side, and complement our strengths. Initiatives like the Global Innovation Alliance connect us with talent hubs across the world. We will make ourselves a more attractive safe harbour for talent, ideas and intellectual property, to grow more businesses and create better jobs. Competition is intense. Talented people, including our own, can go anywhere.

I know many Singaporeans are concerned with foreign competition, but closing ourselves up is not the answer. We cannot escape competing with the world, and proving our mettle. We will give our workers the training and support to excel, and we will ensure that the competition is fair. This is the best way to improve the well-being of our people.

Our businesses and people

Finally, beyond investments in intangibles and infrastructure, this Government will ensure that every member of Team Singapore shares the benefits of growth. Let me highlight two efforts: digitalisation and internationalisation.

Covid-19 has pushed many businesses and consumers to embrace the digital world. The digital trajectory will only accelerate, and not reverse. We must enable every Singaporean, young and old; every business, big and small, to go digital and thrive.

Companies will embrace digital tools to create new business models and transcend our local market constraints. For example, STB (Singapore Tourism Board) is helping our hospitality companies and event organisers to overcome the collapse in travel demand by using digital tools. One event organiser - WiT or Web In Travel - is engaging global audiences though a virtual travel summit later this month, across different countries.

In the 1980s, we uplifted a generation through computerisation and automation. In the 2020s, we will transform another generation through digitalisation and data, and not just the young in high-tech companies. We are building a thousand-strong Digital Ambassador Corps to help small and micro enterprises apply digitalisation, and help senior citizens to learn to use the technology.

But helping businesses access new markets must go beyond the digital online to establish real partnerships in the real world. Many Singapore businesses have established regional and global presence in the past years, often in partnerships. The more established and larger companies help newcomers and smaller businesses. For example, CapitaLand brings along Singapore companies in its overseas development projects, thus helping them to penetrate new markets. The retail and hospitality sector may be going through a challenging time, but CapitaLand will press on and do more to support our local SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises).

We will step up such efforts to nurture a new generation of regional and global businesses. We will facilitate more industry partnerships, including in the digital space, like how Singapore E-Biz and Alliance 21 are helping local food manufacturers drive international business. Likewise, we will better organise our overseas Singapore business chapters and missions to guide newcomers venturing overseas.

Our business leaders and workers will be key to these efforts. We must have the aptitude and attitude to serve global markets. Our people must have the entrepreneurial spirit to venture abroad to compete, and seize the opportunities of a fast-growing Asia. We cannot be content with doing well just within Singapore. We introduced Scale-up SG to groom promising local companies into global champions. So long as our companies have the ambition, we will find the resources to support them.

We will intensify the overseas exposure of our people, through initiatives like the Global Ready Talent Programme, so that they gain fresh perspectives and networks.

That is what we did for many students, including Carousell co-founders (Quek) Siu Rui, Marcus (Tan), and Lucas (Ngoo). They spent a year in Silicon Valley, as part of the NUS (National University of Singapore) Overseas Colleges programme. This laid the foundation and gave them the confidence to later launch Carousell, which their team has grown beyond Singapore to eight markets across South-east Asia today. We will scale up such opportunities for our people.

Earlier this year, MOE (Ministry of Education) announced our "70-70" target to enable more students from institutes of higher learning (IHL) to gain overseas exposure - 70 per cent of IHL students to have an overseas exposure, 70 per cent to focus on China, India and Asean. We will press on with this once the Covid-19 situation allows.

We will never be done upskilling our people. This is especially so for workers who have left school many years ago and did not benefit from the more recent improvements in our education and training system. Our promise is this: We will create opportunities for all Singaporeans, no matter how old you are, to improve your lives at every stage of your careers. So long as you are able and willing, we will support you. Every Singaporean, regardless of background, can have the chance to take on the new jobs being created.

CONFIDENCE FOR THE FUTURE

We can be confident that our investments in our strengths, our infrastructure, and our people are all coming together. This is why in the first four months of this year, EDB (Economic Development Board) has already captured $13 billion of investment commitments, from companies like ExxonMobil, Micron, and ST Microelectronics, and some companies continue to hire and grow their businesses, like Innosparks, Secretlab, and Shopee.

Even though the outlook for the next few years is uncertain, investors maintain their confidence in Singapore to base their new and exciting projects here.

For example, Hyundai will be setting up their Mobility Global Innovation Centre in Jurong. It will be a next-generation innovation and manufacturing platform incorporating artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and robotics to produce electric vehicles of the future. When ready in 2022, it will create many new and exciting opportunities for our workers.

Our local companies are confident too. In my regular visits to our local companies, I have seen many big and small companies in different sectors actively transforming their businesses, such as Prima, Hai Sia Seafood, and Markono Print Media. What cheered me most is that they have upskilled their workforce in the process. They didn't leave the workers behind.

As you can see, there are still many opportunities for us, but we must be on our toes. Survival favours not the strong, but the agile.

  • The national broadcasts by Singapore leaders will start from 7.30pm on the following dates:

    June 7: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

    June 9: Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

    June 11: Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean.

    June 14: Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.

    June 17: Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

    June 20: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

    All speeches will be televised in the four official languages. Or watch it on Gov.sg website, Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter.

CONCLUSION

Our Pioneer and Merdeka Generations built our economy from scratch. They laid our strong foundations, brick by brick - Changi Airport, HDB (Housing Board) flats, MRT lines, SIA, DBS, PSA and many more. In fact, they moved us from Third World to First in one generation, and saved enough to set aside reserves for future generations.

They showed us what it means to be Singaporean. That while we are not of common ancestry, race, language or religion, we are defined by our determination to chart our own destiny, guided by the values of openness, inclusiveness, self-determination, meritocracy and incorruptibility for us to defy the odds of history, and not only survive but thrive with the world as our hinterland and our markets.

Fifty-five years on, we are better positioned to keep Singapore going, growing and glowing.

We will build a better Singapore together, where our future generations have the pride, the means, and the gumption to be called Singaporeans.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2020, with the headline 'Making a living in a Covid-19 world'. Print Edition | Subscribe