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Singapore’s finance minister sees solid South-east Asia growth despite risks

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Singapore and other South-east Asian economies are poised to remain resilient in the face of increasingly dour signs on the global economy, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

[SINGAPORE] Singapore and other South-east Asian economies are poised to remain resilient in the face of increasingly dour signs on the global economy, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Economies in the 10-member Association of South-east Asian Nations "and Asean as a group both continue to grow quite well even this year and next," Mr Heng told Bloomberg Television's Haslinda Amin on the sidelines of meetings of the regional bloc in Chiang Rai, Thailand. "There will still be growth even though the growth will be uneven across the world and it'll be slower than before."

Global growth has lost momentum since the beginning of the year, a knock for trade-reliant nations in South-east Asia, especially Singapore. For now, regional growth seems to be holding up, with the Asian Development Bank forecasting 4.9 per cent expansion in 2019.

In Singapore, authorities see growth easing to slightly below the midpoint of a 1.5 to 3.5 per cent range this year, after reaching 3.3 per cent in 2018, with inflation remaining benign. Mr Heng said the growth forecast isn't being revised at this stage.

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The finance minister reiterated that a potential worsening of the US-China trade war is a risk to the global economy, with the two powers yet to ink an agreement that would relieve any of the tariffs put in place on US$360 billion in goods. Brexit uncertainties and a general malaise among workers about how to adapt amid rapid technological change also weigh on world growth prospects.

In South-east Asia, regional economies are benefiting as companies adjust supply chains to take account of rising tariffs in the US and China, Mr Heng said.

SUPPLY CHAINS

Conversations with investors "have been generally quite positive, still," Mr Heng said. "There is a sense that the global supply chain is re-configuring quite rapidly and now people are thinking about the resilience of the supply chain," which means diversification and movement of operations to Asean economies, he said.

Mr Heng said he's heard from logistics operators who report a "far higher volume of business" as they move heavy machinery and goods from around the region.

Fiscal and monetary authorities have a smaller margin for managing economic problems after taking unconventional policy measures in the aftermath of the last financial crisis, Mr Heng said.

The minister also made the following comments in his interview:

• US-China tensions aren't a "one-off dispute" as intellectual property rights and broader competition over technology will continue; "there will be many ups and downs in the coming months and years"

• "I'm hopeful that good sense will prevail and there will be a deal between the US and China"; the signals are more positive recently on their trade talks

• Officials at Asean meetings agreed to share more "threat intelligence" around cyber-security issues, and to reinforce basic security practices at ministries such as resetting passwords

• Vast majority of recent cyber-security incidents in region were "because users were careless"

BLOOMBERG