Businesses can tap Singapore for regional growth in post-Covid-19 rebound: EDB exec

Annabeth Leow
Published Tue, Mar 16, 2021 · 06:27 PM

BEING a node for regional supply chains is one role for Singapore to stay relevant to multinationals in the post-pandemic economy, Economic Development Board (EDB) executive vice-president Lim Kok Kiang said on Tuesday.

Mr Lim, who oversees international operations and advanced manufacturing strategies for the EDB, added that the Republic can also position itself as a source of innovation, and as a launchpad for firms "leveraging Singapore to go into the region".

Speaking at a business panel on growing from Singapore during the pandemic, he cited the "enormous opportunity" in Asean, when asked how Singapore can stack up as production bases expand in neighbouring markets.

"It actually makes sense for… Singapore to grow in tandem with South-east Asia," he said, noting that operational competitiveness in Singapore could be enhanced by efforts such as capability-building, even as projects such as the South-east Asia Manufacturing Alliance, launched in February, enable companies to expand both here and regionally.

He affirmed that traditional business incentives - whether support for training or for operations - are not the only way to woo investors.

"The most important thing, in my view, is really working in collaboration with companies across the whole gamut of, if you like, solutions, of which incentives and support is one," he told the Nikkei Forum Innovative Asia.

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Instead, planners are focused on how Singapore can stay open and connected, offering companies a sense of competitiveness, he added.

"We'll try to continue to look and calibrate, but honestly, in today's context, I think that (offering incentives) is really not the most important."

Stressing that policymakers have never taken Singapore's partners and investments for granted, Mr Lim said "we have benefited from being an open trusted economy or location for businesses globally to continue to operate".

He reiterated this point about not taking anything for granted, in reply to Nikkei journalist and panel moderator Dylan Loh, who asked about the impact of Singapore's tighter manpower policy, such as the recent move barring Dependant's Pass holders from working with just a letter of consent.

"Being a small economy, we do have to punch above our weight and hence - really, in terms of working with companies - to enable them to continue to be competitive in Singapore," Mr Lim responded.

Though he noted that foreign labour is under the Manpower Ministry, he said: "Making the environment conducive continues to be something important for us… We will have to continue to find the right balance, continue to work with these companies to bring their activities or to grow their activities or to transform their activities in Singapore."

To be sure, 2021 is a challenging year, and predicted "a lot more competition as well, as countries also try to revive their economies".

Still, he hopes that "we'll be able to continue to work with companies to support them as they grow or transform or even innovate", he told the forum.


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