Singapore will manage economic cycles, and must stay focused on transformation: Heng Swee Keat

(From left) Mr Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, and Economic Development Board managing director Chng Kai Fong at the Tech Forum in San Francisco on April 20, 2019.
(From left) Mr Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, and Economic Development Board managing director Chng Kai Fong at the Tech Forum in San Francisco on April 20, 2019.PHOTO: ST READER

SAN FRANCISCO - The Singapore economy will go through cycles, and the Government is prepared for that, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told Singapore media in San Francisco on the sidelines of a tech forum on the last day of his 11-day trip to the United States.

"If there is a need for us to use counter cyclical monetary and fiscal policy to manage that, we will," Mr Heng said on Saturday (April 20) in answer to a question on whether there was concern over signs of a slowdown in the economy.

"But what is more important is for us to continue to focus on very major structural changes which are happening in the global economy and the Singapore economy," he said.

"We must stay very focused on our industry transformation and looking at how we can create synergy. That's one major area of work," he said.

The other area is to push ahead with technology innovation, he said. "I think we must position Singapore as a global Asian node of technology innovation and enterprise."

Mr Heng said that during his visit to Silicon Valley on Friday, he found tremendous focus on technology and innovation and how that is transforming society and the economy.

"They are looking at how they can take on the best technology and how it can be used for innovative activities that can benefit people across different realms," he said.

 
 
 

"What struck me is the speed and scale at which they are taking this challenge very seriously. It's an area we must invest a lot of time and resources in."

A second strength was the diversity of the teams the tech companies had assembled, he said.

They have been able to assemble very diverse teams of people not just in terms of race, gender and age, but more importantly, in terms of their background experience, he said.

"Whether it is the schools that they go to, the education that they have, the background training they have been in - whether it is engineering or businesses - as well as the range of countries that they come from," Mr Heng said.

"By pulling together all these background experiences, they have been able to build very strong diverse teams with very, very creative people. That is another major area we need to look at - how we can grow this talent pool," he said.

Mr Heng also spoke about how the Government can create an enabling environment to allow innovation to flourish.

"In our case, we are fortunate we are a single layer of government, and that allows decision making to be a lot faster," Mr Heng said. "But we need to look at how our regulatory approaches need to change in order to enable this innovation to take place."

"Instead of looking at government as a possible obstacle to change, I think government should be an important… enabler of change because at the end of it, all of us share a common objective of improving the lives of our people," he said.

In the course of his trip, Mr Heng met finance chiefs of Group of 20 countries as well as World Bank and International Monetary Fund officials, senators and members of Congress and the US administration in Washington. Discussions included US relations with Asia.

While at the moment, there is very significant trade friction between the US and China, which goes beyond trade numbers to a range of issues related to technology as well as a broader long-term competition for strategic influence, American administration and political leaders have a very positive view of Singapore and South-east Asia, he said.

 
 

"In the case of Singapore, we have a longstanding relationship (with the US) and I think we can build on that," he said. "We do not take particular positions. We are a neutral trusted party and we are also a major partner of the US in many different areas, whether it is in security or economics or people-to-people exchange, and I hope we can build on this and extend this and grow this in coming years," he added.

"At the same time there is a lot of interest in economic development in the region especially in South-east Asia... (which) is today the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world and is projected to grow by 2030 to be the fourth largest," he said.

Asked if a Cabinet reshuffle would take place soon in Singapore, he said "It is likely to happen soon but I will leave the Prime Minister to announce the details."

He said he would not speculate on what portfolio he might have next.