Singapore seeks to cement business hub status in post-Covid new normal: Chan Chun Sing

Annabeth Leow
Published Thu, Mar 11, 2021 · 10:24 AM

SINGAPORE has never restricted exports of products from mask manufacturer 3M - not even during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

Rejecting export controls is one way the Republic builds a reputation as a partner for long-term investment, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said in recorded remarks broadcast on Thursday, as he laid out Singapore's place in a changing world.

That's as Singapore aims to remain a global business hub in the post-pandemic new normal, when Mr Chan anticipates such hubs "will be fewer, but of higher quality".

"Many of the lower value-add functions of the previous business hubs will be outsourced and offshored to other places in a much more decentralised fashion," he told a business summit hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

"But the real important work in generating intellectual capital, aggregating talent and mobilising capital will belong to a few of the select and high-quality business hubs."

Entrenching Singapore's role as such a hub is one of three key responses to growing geopolitical uncertainty, technological disruption, and societal inequality.

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The other two strategies involve building niche capabilities in the global value chain, as well as enhancing the capabilities of enterprises and people, Mr Chan added.

He stressed that Singapore policymakers do not expect a return to the pre-pandemic status quo. Even if the economy rebounds to its earlier size, "it will be quite a different economy qualitatively" as sectors, skills, products and services would have changed.

"So there's no point trying to… lull people into the false sense of confidence that we will somehow get back to the pre-Covid world," he said.

Instead, he called for new capabilities to meet opportunities in areas such as precision engineering, biotechnology, infocommunications, "green tech" and urban solutions.

Separately, the minister also warned against governments being "just concerned with a particular set of trade numbers", such as current account surpluses or deficits.

Market economies risk distorting policies and investment decisions when governments try to tell companies where to site their production operations, Mr Chan said, while calling this practice "not a very useful exercise".

"It's important for us to make decisions based on sound commercial principles, rather than based on geopolitics or based on politics," he remarked.

In that vein, "we like companies who come in here with a long-term perspective", Mr Chan noted, when asked by moderator Denise Rutherford how the private sector can support growth in Singapore and the region.

"We partner (companies) to develop our workers and a global talent pool, so that they can sustain their operations for the longer term. So, that's what our value proposition will be," he told Ms Rutherford, who is senior vice-president of corporate affairs at 3M.

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