Foreign business chambers in Singapore are worried that the recent rise in anti-foreigner sentiments and scrutiny of the role of foreign manpower could negatively impact future investments from the global business community.
Representatives from 16 foreign chambers voiced these concerns to Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Thursday during a dialogue hosted by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF).
They noted that Singapore's stable and predictable business environment as well as connectivity and openness have encouraged many of their members to set up regional headquarters and operations here.
But the recent rise in anti-foreigner sentiments could give the "wrong impression" to the international business community that Singapore is becoming closed to foreign investments and global talents, the business leaders said.
They highlighted to Mr Chan that Singapore continues to require global talent to supplement the local workforce so that it can meet the needs of a changing economy.
Mr Chan said in a Facebook post yesterday that he assured them Singapore remains committed to being open and connected to the world.
"This will never change," he said.
"We recognise the role that international companies and workers have played in growing Singapore's economy and intend to continue to ensure we provide a business-friendly environment for them to operate in."
But, he added, Singaporeans are increasingly anxious about their future in these unprecedented times.
"It is important that we work together to support our Singaporean workers and assure them that we will always provide a fair and level playing field," the minister said.
"In this regard, I was very heartened by the international business chambers' assurance that their members were deeply committed to developing their Singapore workforce and would continue to abide by fair hiring practices."
In a statement yesterday, SBF chief executive Ho Meng Kit urged the foreign chambers, who gave "many examples of their members' efforts to develop the Singapore core", to publicise their efforts and engage the community.
"All these will help to square the debate (on) how our foreign companies are here to add to the economy and not to take away value from it," he said.
European Chamber of Commerce president Federico Donato told The Straits Times yesterday that Singaporeans should take pride in the fact that the country is competing with the likes of major global cities London and New York.
"Singapore is playing in the Champions League and it should be proud of that, but if you want to play in this league, you need to have Messi and Ronaldo," he added, referring to football stars Lionel Messi, an Argentinian who plays for Spanish club Barcelona, and Cristiano Ronaldo, a Portuguese who plays for Italian club Juventus.
On Thursday, the foreign chambers also urged the Government to push for the opening of borders with more countries so that business travel can resume.
They also called for the pilot Business Travel Pass to be extended to more companies and employees, and for the Government to move from a stay-home notice (SHN) regime to a testing regime with a shorter SHN for business travellers.
Mr Chan said the Government understood the need for business travel to resume and will continue to push for the opening of borders in a safe manner, balanced against health and safety concerns.
But to do so, mutual consensus between countries is necessary to establish bilateral travel arrangements, and sharing of information among governments on their local Covid-19 situations would better facilitate resumption of travel, said Mr Chan.
Australian Chamber of Commerce executive director Kate Baldock told The Straits Times that her organisation has been advocating for Singapore-Australia borders to reopen for business travel.
The authorities had announced on Wednesday that Singapore will allow visitors from Australia, excluding those from Victoria state, to enter the country from next Thursday.
Australia, however, has yet to reciprocate the move.
Ms Baldock noted that community transmission of Covid-19 has been "very low" in Singapore, and said: "The way 'green lane' travel has been done for other countries shows that resuming business travel can be managed and mitigated."