Davos—Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in Davos, Switizerland, for the world World Economic Forum, stressed the necessity of Singapore to remain open amidst a globe atmosphere of protectionism and populism.
In a panel discussion tackling multilateralism, PM Lee said that an open policy that upholds a rules-based multilateral trading system is a “great help to a small country like Singapore”.
Otherwise, he compared it to arm wrestling with a larger opponent. “Without that, if I am arm wrestling one on one, Singapore versus whoever the other side is, chances are the other party is bigger than us.”
This is why the country backs the World Trade Organization and participates in groups such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), he added.
Channel NewsAsia (CNA) reports PM Lee as explaining how the country protects itself on two fronts. First, by getting established in burgeoning sectors such as technology, citing the example of tech giants such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and others having centers in Singapore.
The Prime Minister said, “In an uncertain world, if you have a capability, despite the uncertainties, people will find that they want to do business with you and put their business in Singapore.”
The second way the country protects itself is through covering businesses and employees who are affected by the rapid developments in the worldwide economy through providing services such as SkillsFuture, which reskills or upskills workers to help them boost their employability.
The panel discussion, entitled Leading a New Multilateralism had South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor, Western Union CEO Hikmet Ersek and Bharti Enterprises founder Sunil Mittal as other panelists. Roula Khalaf, the editor of the Financial Times, moderated the discussion.
PM Lee commented on the impact that ongoing trade tensions between the two largest economies in the world, the United States and China, have had on Singapore.
He said, “Our exports are down, confidence in the region is down.”
Singapore’s growth in 2019 had been less than one percent, he pointed out.
“I think that is holding back business confidence and investments, it’s bound to. If I was a businessman, I would be very watchful too.”
Mr Lee’s remarks in Davos echo his New Year’s Day message at the beginning of the year. Then, he pointed out how uncertain the global situation is, and that the country should stay “open and connected to the world”.
He said, “Today, the outlook is again fraught with uncertainty. Serious frictions have developed between the US and China. Their recent trade deal has partially relieved tensions, but it will not resolve the fundamental differences.
Meanwhile, many societies – including most recently Hong Kong, Chile and France – are under stress. Despite economic growth, their peoples feel anxious, discouraged and upset. They worry about basic needs like housing and jobs. They are angry that the fruits of growth have not been shared equitably, and income gaps are widening.
Consequently, large parts of their populations have lost faith in their economic and political systems, and are pessimistic about the future. This is fuelling nativism and chauvinism, and sectarian strife. Everywhere globalisation seems to be in retreat.
Singaporeans too are worried about the state of the world, and we also have our own domestic concerns. But we must resist the temptation to turn inwards. Instead, we must stay open and connected to the world.” -/TISG
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