Ms Cheryl Chan Wei Ling: To ask the Minister for Trade and Industry as we transit into a state of COVID-19 endemic (a) what is the impact on our economy in 2022 for any delay of border re-opening; and (b) what measures are taken in the transition to ensure that SMEs can tide through this period.
Written Answer by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling
1. Singapore is a small, globally connected economy that thrives on the flow of people and goods. As we move towards COVID-19 resilience with a high rate of vaccination, we will be gradually easing our border restrictions. We had earlier introduced Vaccinated Travel Lanes with Germany and Brunei, and have recently included more countries in Categories II and III following a review of their Covid-19 situations. This facilitates travel with more countries, and we will continue to establish VTL and other travel arrangements with key destinations.
2. Keeping Singapore connected to the world is important for three reasons:
a. First, Singapore’s strategic position as a business hub depends on our connectivity with the world. Many companies here serve global or regional markets. Continued restrictions on business travel will hamper their ability to operate effectively.
b. Second, the recovery of our travel-dependent sectors such as aviation, tourism, and meetings, conferences and exhibitions (‘MICE’) relies on foreign visitors. These sectors employ many Singaporeans and have borne the brunt of the ongoing pandemic.
c. Third, we will need to ease labour shortages, particularly in the construction sector, which has been experiencing serious project delays or disruptions, including many BTO projects. Many families are also awaiting domestic workers to help care for their loved ones.
3. By progressively and carefully restoring international connections with the rest of the world, we not only help our economy emerge stronger, but also help to meet the housing and care needs of Singaporeans.
4. In the meantime, the Government has implemented a comprehensive suite of measures to help firms, especially our SMEs, to tide through this challenging period.
5. These include:
a. Grants like the Jobs Support Scheme and the Rental Support Scheme to help firms defray costs and retain workers;
b. Financing schemes like the Temporary Bridging Loan to help address cashflow needs; and
c. Development grants like the Enterprise Development Grant and the Enhanced Training Support Package to help firms transform and uplift their businesses.
6. To alleviate the tight foreign manpower situation, the Government has relaxed regulatory conditions to help firms retain their work permit holders. We are also facilitating the safe inflow of new workers from a range of source countries.
7. We are prepared to consider other ways to help our firms as needs arise. Singapore has weathered many crises in the past. We have done it before, and I am confident that as long as we stay united and resilient, we will emerge from COVID-19 stronger than before.