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Facilitating business opportunities with Smart Cities Network

[SINGAPORE] TAKE a problem in a city in South-east Asia that needs to be tackled and match the city with businesses from across the region, to come up with innovative solutions.

Such is the idea behind a key project that Singapore will spearhead as Asean chair this year.

The Asean Smart Cities Network is an effort to not only ride the digital wave, but also step up engagements across South-east Asia and beyond.

In an interview on Monday, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the network will facilitate business opportunities for start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises across the region.

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It will also help Asean businesses engage with countries such as China, India and the United States.

The network is one of the ways in which Singapore is pushing for economic integration, collaboration and openness.

Also on the horizon is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, an ambitious trade pact involving Asean and six of its key trading partners, including China, India and Japan.

So far, negotiations have been slow, but Dr Balakrishnan noted that Asean leaders have said during the Asean-India Commemorative Summit last month that they were keen to settle talks by the end of the year. "So this is something which all our leaders have prioritised," he added.

Noting Asean economies have come a long way in the last 50 years, Dr Balakrishnan warned that the principles of free trade and openness that have driven Asean's growth are under threat.

Across the globe, protectionist sentiments have grown, triggered by digital disruption to traditional industries and jobs, and Asean will have to confront this, he said.

Even in Singapore, people have concerns about the negative impact of free trade and worry about competition, said Dr Balakrishnan.

But he hoped that Singaporeans will see the totality of it, given that "for Singapore, free trade is our lifeblood".

He noted that the Republic's trade is 3.5 times its gross domestic product, making it unique in the world.

Singapore has also invested substantially in China, India and Asean, and wants them to do well for the sake of its return on investments, he noted.

Greater economic integration and the promotion of free trade are crucial for Singapore's survival, even as it undertakes restructuring, re-skilling and a review of domestic safety nets, he added.

"What I do worry about is people saying, 'No, no, no, I can't cope, so let's shut the door.' That will be fatal for us," he said.

THE STRAITS TIMES

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