In a speech in France, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong encouraged an audience of his countrymen to boost Singapore’s productivity, investments, economy and skills, especially in this time of global unpredictability because of tensions in world trade.
Mr. Lee was a guest of honor at the French National Day Parade on July 14, the first time a leader from Singapore has been honored in this way. Also, a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer along with five French Air Force Alpha Jets, flew in the skies of Paris as part of the celebrations for the day. The flag of Singapore was also carried by a contingent from the RSAF in a parade in Paris.
“The flag fluttered and I think it was a moment of pride for anybody seeing it in Singapore,” he said.
That night, the Prime Minister spoke to around 300 Singaporeans living in Paris at the Les Salon de l’Hotel des Arts et Metiers. He told his audience that it was important to care for each other, and to uphold connections with fellow Singaporeans everywhere in the world.
Mr. Lee talked about how current trade wars between China and the US, as well as the US and EU, are affecting the country. “There is tension in the air… If trade is down, I think that strikes at the root of our prosperity and our economic vitality,” he said.
In early July, the US applied additional taxes on imports from China that are worth billions of dollars, which caused China to retaliate accordingly. And just last week, more tariffs on thousands of Chinese imports were announced, including new taxes on paintings, drawings, antiques, and pastels; all of which could be slapped with an additional ten percent in taxes upon entering America.
As for Europe, the Trump administration imposed new taxes on metal imports, as well as a possible twenty percent tax on motor vehicles imported from the EU.
The Prime Minister urged his audience to be psychologically prepared in case hard times come. “We can’t do a lot about it, but we can be psychologically prepared and make sure that we build up our own economy, investments, skills, productivity, upgrading — all the mantras and codewords which we do every National Day, but which are in fact eternal, relevant concerns for all Singaporeans if we want to thrive and prosper.”
Programs such as SkillsFuture have been touted by Singapore’s leaders in order for Singaporeans to remain competitive and ready for all kinds of changes.
The Prime Minister spoke of the recent hosting of Singapore of the Trump-Kim historical summit as a reason for Singaporeans to be proud of the country. “We held our head high and we did Singapore proud, and I think Singaporeans everywhere got the thrill, because now people know where Singapore is.”
Mr. Lee also pointed out that the country’s economy performed well last year, and is expected to continue to do well even this year. Government experts expect the economy to grow between 2.5-3.5 per cent for this year. 2017’s economic growth was at 3.6 per cent.
Preliminary data from the Trade and Industry Ministry showed that growth for the second quarter of 2018 slowed due to increasing trade tensions between the US and China, as well as a slowdown in manufacturing. Economists had forecasted that the economy would grow by 4 per cent from April to June. However, it only showed a growth of 3.8 per cent.
The Prime Minister’s warnings of a possible economic slowdown has recently been echoed by two financial institutions in Singapore, GIC Pte. and Temasek Holdings Pte. GIC warned recently that as trade wars worsen and the possibilities of a worldwide economic slowdown looms, investment returns would be on the decrease in the years to come. Temasek warned that investments may possibly wane, since economic risks are on the increase.
Mr. Lee was accompanied at the reception by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Senior Minister of State (Communications and Information, and Culture, Community and Youth) Sim Ann and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.