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PAP CONVENTION

S'pore's GDP growth may exceed 3% for 2017, productivity up: PM Lee

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On foreign relations, Mr Lee said Singapore's ties with the US and China are "in good order", adding that relations with Malaysia and Indonesia are "also good".

Singapore

SINGAPORE'S economy could expand by more than 3 per cent in 2017, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday as he sketched a bullish picture of the country's full-year growth prospects.

For now, the official growth forecast is 2-3 per cent with the gross domestic product expanding at the upper end of the range. But private-sector economists have already gone ahead to raise the figure.

Last week, DBS Group Research economist Irvin Seah upped the bank's growth forecast for the Singapore economy to 3.2 per cent, from 2.8 per cent previously.

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The Business Times-Singapore University of Social Sciences Business Climate Q3 survey report, released last week, indicated Singapore's full-year economic growth could even come in at between 3.4 per cent and 3.7 per cent.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry is due to issue the third quarter GDP data on Thursday morning.

Speaking to over 2,000 party activists, including Cabinet ministers and union leaders, at the biennial People's Action Party (PAP) convention, Mr Lee said Singapore's economy "is looking up".

"The world economy is doing quite well, and we are benefiting from that. Our unemployment remains low, and wages have gone up. Most significantly, productivity has picked up," said Mr Lee, who is also the PAP's secretary-general.

"This year's growth is quite good. We initially expected 1.5 per cent growth, then we raised our forecast to 2 to 3 per cent. Now, it looks like we may exceed 3 per cent," he said.

But Mr Lee was quick to stress that the "job is not done", because the current upswing is cyclical. The government has to push on with plans to restructure and upgrade the economy to keep growth sustainable, he said.

While the government will do what it can, he said Singaporeans and employers must also work together and do their part.

"Our workers must acquire the right skills and capabilities, they must know how to upgrade themselves and be confident about their future and livelihoods. Our companies also have to adapt, upgrade and compete in the global marketplace."

He also said the authorities will continue expanding the public transport network and make other major social and infrastructure investments, and that taxes will be raised as spending needs grow.

He noted that the Future Economy Council, chaired by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, is progressively implementing the recommendations of the Committee on the Future Economy. This is a "major task", with Chan Chun Sing, Ong Ye Kung and other younger ministers in the Cabinet all closely involved too, he said.

Mr Lee reported that the government has reorganised to focus on skills upgrading, job matching and job creation, the key strategies already put in place to take care of workers.

He said restructuring the Singapore economy takes effort. It won't be a totally smooth journey, but Singapore will finish it. "We have done it before, and we can do it again. The government will support and help workers and companies. As long as we stick together and make the effort, we will get it done."

Earlier in his nearly hour-long speech, Mr Lee also said Singapore's relations with the United States and China - the world's largest and second-largest economies respectively - are "in good order".

The prime minister met Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on his last visit to China in September, and caught up with US President Donald Trump at the White House in the following month.

While it was "not always easy" to be good friends with both the US and China at the same time, Mr Lee said Singapore has "not done too badly".

Singapore's ties with Indonesia and Malaysia are "also good", with the Republic maintaining its largest foreign investor status in both countries. Singapore also remains the top source of tourists for Indonesia and Malaysia.

Mr Lee hosted a leaders' retreat for Indonesian President Joko Widodo in September and he said he would do likewise for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in December.

"There will always be ups and downs in our relations with other countries, big and small. Our interests will not always coincide with theirs," he said.

"But our fundamental approach should not change. Singapore should take a long-term view, and work towards good relations that benefit both sides," Mr Lee said.

When relations are going well, he said these should not be taken for granted. More importantly, when relations go south, Singapore should "not get flustered or cower".

Mr Lee added that it was important for Singapore to never fall under foreign control or sway, and no foreign country should ever influence Singapore's domestic debate and politics.

"Singaporeans have to understand our core interests," he said. "When we are put to the test, we will stay united and back the government. Then we can stand our ground and defend Singapore's interests as one single, cohesive country."

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