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S'pore to retain manufacturing as pillar of economy: PM Lee

He expressed hope that German SMEs would expand in Singapore and use it as a gateway to Asia

PM Lee addressing about 100 Singaporean and German business leaders and government officials at a state dinner in a 15th-century castle chapel in Dresden on Monday evening.


THE government will continue to maintain the importance of manufacturing in the Singapore economy, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the end of his four-day official visit to Germany on Wednesday.

"It has to be the sort of manufacturing that fits our circumstances, and we do want manufacturing as an important pillar of our economy," he told the Singapore media in an interview in Berlin.

The companies in Germany are strong when it comes to manufacturing, and Singapore is ready to work closely with them and help them succeed in Singapore, he stressed.

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On this trip to Germany, his first since 2005, he spent some time over the last four days meeting representatives from various German businesses to understand their views and concerns.

"It's important that when I travel, I take the chance to talk to company executives so that they hear from me first-hand and understand what the Singapore government's stance is," said Mr Lee.

Among the many representatives of German firms he met on this visit were those from the likes of semiconductor manufacturer Infineon Technologies, and engineering giants Siemens and Bosch - all prominent multinationals that have had long histories of doing business in Singapore.

Mr Lee expressed hope that more of the German "Mittelstand" - the small and medium-sized enterprises that form the backbone of the German economy - would consider expanding in Singapore and use the Republic as a gateway to Asia.

Whether they are big or small, he said, German businesses shared similar concerns about investing in Singapore.

"One of the major issues that is critical to them is that, in Singapore, they get consistency in policy, regulatory transparency. Ours is a clean system, a company's intellectual property is protected, and they can depend on what we say being fulfilled and honoured, not just in the short term but over the long term too."

Mr Lee assured them that the government would uphold the system that has worked well for them, and that the Singapore economy would continue to upgrade itself over time.

"We are keeping the economy on an even keel. We are upgrading, we are helping the companies to upgrade. We are managing the inflow of foreign workers and executives. While we have to control the numbers, we will continue to rely upon them."

Mr Lee brought with him on this trip a large delegation of business leaders led by International Enterprise (Singapore) and by the Singapore Business Federation.

In the hour he spent over breakfast with most of the executives on Wednesday, one of the main issues that emerged was that of the ongoing shortage of manpower.

While he was unsurprised at this, he noted that many of the Singapore companies were generally doing well and that some had successfully ventured abroad, both in traditional markets and far-flung ones.

"They told me how they've expanded overseas, and many have significant operations in Iskandar (in Johor), Batam, China, Thailand. One company even has an operation in Brazil. That's the way our companies have to go - have some operations in Singapore, but also overseas. Then, you are successful because of your combined presence in many parts of the world," he said.

At this point in the interview, he reiterated the need for Singapore to have a strong and thriving economy that could generate good jobs for the people and pay good salaries.

"We must have a vibrant, humming economy (that) must be successful. That's what we have been trying hard to do, and we are trying hard to get people to understand that this is important," he added.

With the Germany leg of his week-long European trip complete, he and his delegation made their way to Madrid on Wednesday night to begin a two-day official visit to Spain.

While in the Spanish capital, he will have an audience with King Felipe VI, the 47-year-old monarch who began his reign last June following the abdication of his father, Juan Carlos.

Mr Lee is also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and a number of key ministers.