1. Our businesses operate in a more volatile and uncertain external economic environment. There are challenges and opportunity as well. Between the major economies the environment is changing. We see trade frictions, unilateral measures such as tariffs, and technology competition. Growth across a number of Singapore’s trade partners is expected to moderate in 2019.
2. Nonetheless, Singapore starts from a position of strength, although we must not be complacent.
i. Our strategic location and network in the middle of ASEAN. ASEAN has a total population of more than six hundred million with the majority under 35 years old. As ASEAN continues to grow and urbanise further there is great potential within the region.
ii. If we look within Singapore, we also have rules-based good governance. In an era of uncertainty, having this is another factor that encourages confidence from businesses and investors.
iii. Because we are small, we have also been able to invest and develop in a very detailed way our physical and digital infrastructure. It also means that because we are small, we are able to adapt, shift and transform policy in a way that is nimble, that takes into account the needs of the market and businesses including SMEs. You have seen that in the announcements that have come out during the Budget and the Committee of Supply debates as well.
iv. Through all this, we also have a skilled and well-educated workforce. These are all key advantages that we could build on to navigate through challenges and seize the opportunities.
3. Our enterprises and workers can respond to these global trends and technology changes and stay ahead by actively transforming to ensure that we have the capabilities and skillsets to remain relevant. Transformation is the underlying theme for this year’s Budget.
4. In the Budget speech, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat highlighted three key thrusts to support transformation: building deep enterprise capabilities, building deep worker capabilities, and encouraging strong partnerships.
5. In line with Minister Heng’s speech, the Ministry of Trade and Industry has also outlined four core strategies to prepare Singapore for the next stage of growth and transformation:
i. Firstly, it is about developing markets and to develop market opportunities as well. To create opportunities in overseas markets, we will deepen and diversify our physical linkages with the world through our Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). So that is why even today, we are continuing to engage international partners to explore new FTAs. By doing this we are creating opportunities for market access for goods and services by our Singapore companies, including our SMEs. We are also positioning ourselves as a key node in global flows through non-physical modes of connectivity, such as data and financial linkages.
ii. Secondly, it is also about developing our industries. We will rejuvenate existing industries and our physical infrastructure. We will use new technologies to grow new economic activities, such as Advanced Manufacturing and Agri-Tech. We are also continuing that close partnership between academia, industry, our research institutes. Again, this is a way of developing not just the industry itself but also developing our companies. So when you look at how we are investing in our research establishments, you see many of these partnerships. Research connects to the company and becomes an actionable market outcome. At the same time, by investing in our workers, we help our workers find new and better jobs amidst these opportunities.
iii. Thirdly, it is also about developing enterprises. We will level up skills of our workers, and strengthen digital and tech capabilities of our enterprises. We will also support enterprises on their growth journeys, to scale up operations locally and overseas. By enhancing the skills of each individual worker, we are strengthening the pool of workers as a whole. That is good not just for our workers, but for our businesses and SMEs as well.
iv. Lastly, it is also about developing enablers. This includes implementing agile regulations and reducing administrative costs and inefficiencies, as well as promoting a competitive and well-functioning market. Some of it is what we have been doing for many years through the Pro-Enterprise Panel. As I and my colleagues spoke about during the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s Committee of Supply debate, it also means that as a country we must always be alive to the idea of transformation, of doing things better. Part of that is continuing to build a living culture of transformation where whenever we look at the rule we ask, why is the rule there in the first place? Is there a better way to do things?
We will also strengthen our partnership with stakeholders, such as Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs). Our TACs are a very important strength in our local SME ecosystem. Every TAC is more than just the sum of individual businesses and individual business leaders. A TAC is also a pool of social capital, shared experiences and shared networks. That is why we also looking at how to continue levelling our TACs and working more closely with them.
6. The Budget initiatives seek to support all companies as they prepare to take the next step forward for necessary change, to adapt to challenges and opportunities ahead.
It must be a team effort. Government remains committed to enabling our companies, including all of you here today, to transform, to grow, to achieve your vision.
7. In today’s seminar, we have a panel of experts who will be sharing more on the Budget measures, and how they can help you drive transformation in your companies. I wish you all a productive session. Thank you.