SINGAPORE - The Asean Economic Community (AEC), which will be formed this year, will boost opportunities for Singaporeans and local companies, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said in Parliament on Thursday.
Singapore can become the "New York of Asean", he said, in a bid to clarify misperceptions that the AEC will result in jobs being lost and put small and medium-sized firms at a disadvantage.
"Every Asean country will benefit in its own way through the AEC. For us, the AEC provides our people and companies with greater opportunities across Asean," he said.
In Singapore's favour is its unique position as a centre for capital, with rule of law and a safe, stable environment conducive for businesses, he added.
"Our choice is to be plugged into the AEC and benefit from it, or erect walls and prevent our companies and our people from reaping the benefits of integration."
Mr Shanmugam spoke after 13 MPs asked his ministry about its plans for the coming year. Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) asked how the AEC will benefit Singaporeans and what it means in terms of jobs and opportunities.
In a half-hour speech, Mr Shanmugam said strengthening the regional architecture, with Asean at its core, has been a cornerstone of Singapore's foreign policy. A key milestone for the 10-member grouping is the formation on Dec 31, 2015 of an Asean Community, of which the AEC is a key part.
Mr Shanmugam noted that Singapore grew at an average of 3.6 per cent over the last two years. But the Asean economy, the world's seventh largest, grew at about 5.3 per cent annually.
"Singapore itself is a very small market. We need access to a larger market. We have to be well-connected to the region to prosper and create jobs for our people," he said.
This is key given the increasing numbers of skilled Singaporeans entering the workforce, he added.
Asean has signed eight agreements to facilitate the flow of skilled labour in specific professions, provided they meet domestic regulations and standards.
Beyond economics, Mr Shanmugam said Asean has also cooperated to improve the quality of life of its people, from education to human rights, and Singapore will continue to promote a greater understanding of Asean to its people.
Apart from being integrated into the wider region, Mr Shanmugam also said Singapore had to stay relevant to the world in order to advance its national interests.
"We need to be relevant so that others will engage and cooperate with us. That will allow us to work with others to advance our national interests, and shape and strengthen regional architecture," he said.
He also said Singapore had to stay vigilant to threats and opportunities, citing how Singapore was not immune to the threat of terrorism. It is hosting an East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration next month, to share ideas on how to best tackle the scourge of extremism.