Coronavirus: Travel

Singapore can stand out by staying connected: Chan

At a time when countries are choosing to be protectionist and closing themselves off from the world, there is an opportunity for Singapore to distinguish itself by remaining connected, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

The Republic needs a different perspective because its domestic market is too small for protectionism to be an option, he said.

He was speaking during a Money FM 89.3 radio interview, with presenter Howie Lim, on the topic of transforming Singapore's economy for a post-Covid-19 future.

Said Mr Chan: "Our perspective is, if the rest of the world are going to close themselves off, then there is an opportunity for us to remain the most connected place on earth so that people can come here, invest in Singapore and create jobs for our people.

"And if we can win such investments... not only will we take care of the current generation, but we will also allow the next generation to have a much better opportunity to secure higher-quality jobs."

What is crucial is for Singapore to "send the correct signals to the world - that we are still welcoming their investments, and we will allow them to mobilise their capital in a trusted legal system and to aggregate globally competitive teams".

Responding to questions on the measures Singapore has taken to cushion itself against volatility and uncertainty, Mr Chan noted the importance of diversifying.

"The more we diversify across different markets and across different products, the less we are held ransom by the vagaries of any one particular market or product."

Singapore businesses and workers can also find ways to entrench themselves in the global value chain, he said.

For example, in the production line, there may be critical components and parts such as semiconductor chips that Singapore companies can contribute, and create a niche for themselves.

Mr Chan also stressed the importance of lifelong learning and "learning to learn fast", given that one's formal education might become dated at some point.

He gave an anecdote about a Singapore company that he visited.

During the movement control order in Malaysia, the company's Malaysian workers were unable to go to their workplace in Singapore.

But the company soon realised that by using iPads, the workers could still continue to provide service support remotely to the machines that they were operating.

Shortly after, the workers in Singapore realised that they could do the same for machines in Dresden, Germany.

"That got everybody thinking, 'Okay, that's not bad. We are now doing jobs in Germany'. Then, someone said, 'Wait a minute, if we don't keep ourselves ahead, maybe three days later, the Malaysian worker will do the job in Germany'," said Mr Chan.

"So you see, the world has just become much more competitive. The competition is never local, it's always global.

"But if we have the solid skill sets and we keep learning, then I think we have every chance to believe that we can succeed amidst the competition."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2021, with the headline 'Singapore can stand out by staying connected: Chan'. Subscribe