As he delivered the fourth national address in a series of televised broadcasts by ruling party leaders on Singapore’s future in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic yesterday (14 June), Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that Singapore cannot look just inwards and “regress towards protectionism” like other nations.
Asserting that Singapore must prepare for the future as it handles the immediate challenges, Mr Chan said that the Government will invest in developing distinguishing factors that set Singapore apart – or what he calls Singapore’s “intangible strengths”.
To Mr Chan, Singapore’s intangible strengths are its openness and connectivity to the rest of the world, its united and stable society, the skilled workforce and the brand of trust it represents to foreign investors.
While many countries move towards protectionist policies in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, Mr Chan said that Singapore cannot retreat from globalisation and must strive to make a living even as the world becomes less connected. Calling on Singapore to “resist the pressures” of becoming solely inward looking like some nations, Mr Chan said:
“For many countries, COVID-19 has accelerated the retreat from globalisation, and the erection of more protectionist barriers. We must resist these pressures. A less connected world means a poorer world and fewer opportunities for all. A less connected Singapore means fewer and poorer quality jobs for us.”
He added that the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised the trustworthiness of Singapore for foreign investors. Asserting that Singapore’s trusted brand is so much more important in these uncertain times, the minister said:
“Another intangible strength is trust. Singapore is trusted globally. Throughout this crisis, we have also continued to show the world they can trust Singapore. We did not impose export restrictions or nationalise foreign investments.
“We kept our production lines open for global supply chains, including critical materials for surgical masks. We worked with companies to increase their production, so that we could meet Singapore’s and the world’s needs, and we facilitated the continued flow of essential goods and people through our ports and airports.
“In uncertain times, our trusted brand counts for even more. Businesses have noticed. When they make their next investments to diversify their global production bases, we will be in the running.”
Asserting that Singapore is committed to maintaining its free trade agreements with its neighbours, Mr Chan said that Singapore cannot follow the lead of countries that have turned to protectionist policies to shield its domestic markets from foreign competition.
He said: “We will work to stay connected with the world, even as the world threatens to fragment and regress towards protectionism. Despite our size, we can show the way, if we have good ideas.”
Despite concerns among local workers about foreign competition for jobs, Mr Chan added that the Government will “intensify the efforts to attract the best ideas and talent to compete on our side, and complement our strengths.” The politician said that “closing ourselves up is not the answer” to concerns about job competition and that Singapore “cannot escape competing with the world.”
Touching on how the Government will uplift local workers and businesses, Mr Chan said that Singapore must also “have the aptitude and attitude to serve global markets.”
Stressing that Singaporeans “cannot be content with doing well just within Singapore,” Mr Chan called on the people to seize opportunities to compete abroad. To this end, the Government promised to intensify the overseas exposure of Singapore workers and students.
Mr Chan wrapped up his speech by urging members of the public to be confident that “our investments in our strengths, our infrastructure, and our people are all coming together.” Although the future appears uncertain, he said that foreign investors and local businesses have maintained their confidence in Singapore.
Watch his speech in full here: