Singapore must stay open, invest in its people to seize Asia’s growth opportunities: Tan See Leng

Asia's growing middle class, the shift to renewable energy in the face of climate change and the acceleration of digitalisation present opportunities for Singapore's longer-term growth.

To seize them, Singapore has to constantly refresh its economic strategies, stay open and invest in its people, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said on Tuesday (Nov 1).

Speaking at the Asia Future Summit organised by The Straits Times at Raffles City Convention Centre, Tan said that even as Singapore tackles immediate challenges, such as geopolitical tensions and a gloomy global economic outlook, the country must set its sights further to ride on Asia's growth to seize opportunities.

He said Asia, which as a region has shown much resilience amid the Covid-19 pandemic, has seen less contraction than the overall world economy and is also expected to rebound faster.

He added: "Asian countries are expected to be among the world's fastest-growing economies, given the rise of the middle-class demand."

The bulk of the world's consumer demand will soon pivot towards Asia, turning the region into an engine of growth for the global economy, he said.

South-east Asia also has many growth areas with potential, and the countries have to partner one another to seize opportunities, said Tan.

He also noted that climate change is a defining challenge - in particular for Asia, one of the regions most vulnerable to it.

But these challenges also mean there are tremendous mitigation and adaptation opportunities in Asia, he said.

They include investing in clean energy and enhancing infrastructure to support the deployment of renewables and new energy technologies.

"International cooperation will be key to co-develop renewable energy sources and low-carbon solutions, facilitate cross-border electricity trading, and electricity markets' collaborations," said Tan.

Hence, the region has to work closely together, he said, citing Singapore's import of renewable energy from Laos through Thailand and Malaysia since June.

In a dialogue with ST Insight editor Grace Ho, Tan spoke about how Singapore can become more self-reliant in energy.

He noted that about 94 per cent of Singapore's energy consumption is fuelled by natural gas, the least polluting fossil fuel.

There has been much research done on renewable energy and many programmes rolled out to get factories and companies to pivot to these alternatives, he said.

While some may call for more solar panels, Tan said that even if all public buildings - such as Housing Board flats, buildings owned by JTC Corporation and flatted factories - as well as canals and waterways are covered with solar panels, it would provide for only about 5 per cent of Singapore's overall energy consumption.

The alternative is to import renewable energy from the region, such as hydrogen, which Singapore has already begun doing so.

"At the end of the day, conservation has to be key," said Tan.

On digitalisation, he said digital trade and the digital economy will play an increasingly important role in global economies.

The South-east Asian digital economy is on track to exceed US$363 billion and will become one of the world's fastest-growing digital markets, with opportunities in areas such as e-commerce, cloud services, fintech and payments solutions for cross-border online consumption, as well as in food delivery, he added.

Tan said he is confident that Singapore can overcome short-term challenges to seize new opportunities, given that it is acting from a position of strength, with strong fundamentals.

He added: "However, these factors alone will not guarantee our continued success in the future. To remain relevant and to be firmly anchored as a key node to Asia and the world, we must continue to refresh our economic strategies. We must continue to stay open, and to invest significantly in our people."

Singapore has to continue to attract the best companies and top talent to ensure dynamism and innovation in its economy, he said.

The authorities have also committed to investing in infrastructure to expand the country's air and sea cargo capabilities, such as Tuas Port and Changi Airport Terminal 5.

Singapore will also continue to ensure greater integration and cooperation with partners worldwide, against the backdrop of heightened geopolitical tensions, said Tan.

The authorities will also invest in skills training and career health for Singaporeans, and work with tripartite partners to build fairer and more supportive workplaces, he said.

When asked by Ho on balancing citizens' anxieties over job availability and staying open, Tan said that to keep up with the pace of change around the world, it is important for Singapore to ensure that its workforce can compete globally, not just regionally.

He added: "In order for us to transcend the constraints that we have with our limited size, we need to bring in all of these global businesses, opportunities that (we can create) for even more Singaporeans." THE STRAITS TIMES

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