Ladies and Gentlemen,
1 Thank you for inviting me to join you for this evening’s Gala Dinner.
2 It is my pleasure to be here tonight. Singapore and the Netherlands share a longstanding and special relationship.
3 Tonight’s awards namesake, Dr Albert Winsemius, was a dear and treasured friend of Singapore whom we owe a debt of gratitude to.
4 Dr Winsemius was Singapore’s economic adviser for nearly 25 years (1960-1984). He worked closely with our pioneer generation of leaders, he helped to lay the foundation for our success today.
5 Many of our policies, whether it be industrial strategy, housing, water, and even our model of tripartism, were developed in part with Dr Winsemius’ wise counsel.
6 And even after his retirement in 1984, Dr Winsemius continued to take a keen interest in Singapore, reading about us regularly and visiting Singapore twice a year.
7 Dr Winsemius used to say that he felt a particular kinship and affinity with Singaporeans. Indeed, this could be because of our similarities and common circumstances with the Netherlands.
8 We have limited land and few natural resources.
9 We are small and open economies that embrace free trade.
10 We understand that we have to consistently pulling our weight in order for us to remain relevant to the world.
11 Our people are go-getters and dare to dream big. And perhaps most importantly, we have the gumption and determination to turn dreams into reality.
12 Today, if you visit the Economic Development Board of Singapore, at the boardroom you will still see a picture that shows Dr Winsemius’ contributions in developing Jurong, from an empty piece of land to what it is today. Today, if Dr Winsemius was still around, he would have observed that our global economy is evolving rapidly. Perhaps much faster than even the time when he was with us in Singapore. And he would have detected, just like many of you, that the digital economy presents great opportunities for countries like us to be more integrated to the rest of the world and allow countries, small countries like us, to play to our strengths and relative comparative advantages.
13 Developments in the digital economy will allow countries like us to transcend our size and geography. Our growth and development will no longer be constrained by the amount of land and the number of people that we have. However, the development of the digital economy is only possible if we have an integrated world economy and not a fragmented one.
14 Why is the digital economy so special? The digital economy is unlike the conventional economy where consumption of resources may be a zero sum game, and may be subtractive. In the new world of the digital economy, consumption, usage is paradoxically additive. The more we use, the more we share, the greater the opportunities that we create for each other.
15 Take for example, the use of new datasets. The more we are able to share, combine the data together, the more we are able to diagnose problems, analyse the issues, create new products and services to serve our people.
16 Another example would be in the Internet of Things (IoT). The most successful examples of IoT application are those that often result from large groups of shareholders and collaborators coming together to pool their resources and expertise.
17 The digital economy is not a zero sum game – it is a completely different paradigm from the conventional economy where resources are finite and where your gain may be my loss. It is in the digital economy that we can best exemplify the network effects of having more people to come together to create more value.
18 Now herein lies both our challenges and opportunities for the next lap. Trade and technology have uplifted the livelihoods of millions of people over the last few decades. But the same resources, trade and technology, especially globalised trade and technology, will also be the disruptive forces that will require every country to make consequential adjustments to deal with that.
19 The rapid phase of technological disruption and global trade will require every country to rethink how we help our people and businesses adapt. For those countries that are able to muster political will and resources to help their businesses and workers to adapt to global trade and technology, they will come out ahead, not just economically, they will also come out ahead with a better, more cohesive society.
20 On the other hand, the same forces are also fragmenting many societies who are unable to muster the resources and perhaps the political will to help their people to make those adjustments. We see this in many countries, be it China, the US, or even the EU. And once a country is unable to muster the resources and the political will to help their people adjust to the new realities of globalisation and rapid technological transformation, they will inevitably face the challenge of a fractured political centre, and they will rapidly spiral out of control. Without a strong political centre, there will not be a coherent government that will be necessary to muster those resources to help its own people. And this is the reason why many countries are facing this challenge today - a downward spiral, a lack of ability to address the domestic challenges. And contradictions brought about by rapid technological change fragments the political centre. A fractured political centre further aggravates their inability to muster the resources to help their people.
21 For both our countries, we face similar challenges. And it is for this reason that both our countries have devoted so much resources and energy to make sure that we can muster the resources to help our people acquire the new skills for tomorrow and help our businesses to thrive in the new world of digital transformation and global trade.
22 So there are many things that Singapore and the Netherlands can work together, both on the multilateral front and on the bilateral front. On the multilateral front, it is in our respective and shared interests to continue to uphold and update the global trading system, which is under stress at this point in time. For both of us, trade is our lifeline. For Singapore, trade is 3, 4 times of our GDP. For the Netherlands, it is the same situation. Trade is the lifeline for small countries like us. Both of us see the world as our hinterland. Both of us see connectivity as a strategy to overcome our geographical constraints and geographical size. And so, this is the reason why we work so closely together on the multilateral circuit to uphold and update global rules for trade. Both of us depend on a rule-based society and world order for us to thrive. Now both of us can also work together to break new ground, in the new digital economy. The new digital economy will require new rules to allow data to flow, to allow connectivity and interoperability between different systems.
23 But beyond working together on the multilateral front, Singapore also draws inspiration from the Netherland in more areas than one. Even until today, there are many things that we can partner each other on. I will just pick a few examples - in the area of land reclamation, keeping the sea away from our low-lying areas, in the area of water management, environmental sustainability, climate change. These are the same challenges that the Netherlands faces as does Singapore. Your expertise in flood and water management will become increasingly important as the world grapples with the challenges of rising seas and climate change. It is the same for Singapore.
24 You have also shown us that despite your relative small size (though still about 58 times bigger than Singapore!), you have become the world’s 2nd largest food exporter – second only to the US which has 270 times your landmass – due to your precision farming and advanced agri-tech innovations. And going forward in Asia, it is not just the demand for food that is important. It is the demand for quality and safe food that will drive this industry. And this is an area where we can take a leaf out of, from the Netherlands. In Singapore, we believe that if we adopt the correct technology, that we can play a role in the growing precision agriculture sector. In the last 50 years, a big challenge for Singapore is water. In the next 50 years, the biggest challenge for Singapore will be energy. Clean, renewable energy. With today’s technology, so long as we have energy, we will have water. If we have water and energy, we will be able to produce food. And from your example, we draw inspiration.
25 There are many things that we share together - culture, the can do spirit, our geographical circumstances. There are also many things we can do together. In the next lap we hope that this special relationship between the two countries will continue to grow from strength to strength. And one key part of this is to make sure our younger generation - young entrepreneurs, young university students – can have the chance to mix with one another, share ideas, develop ideas and work on them together, because not many countries share similar challenges and a similar spirit. The Netherlands will always be a special country to us, because of what your forefathers have done to help us in our development, our early years. But we will never rest on our laurels – it is our wish, our determination to make sure that we continue to strengthen this relationship from generation to generation.
26 And on this note, I would like to thank the Dutch community for your sustained and continued contributions to Singapore. As we celebrate and commemorate our bicentennial this year, we will recall the contributions of Dutch and Europeans to Singapore, many of whom, like Dr Winsemius, have played important roles in shaping Singapore. Their ideas, the counsel that they have shared with us, continue to shape Singapore till this day and I am sure, going forward.
27 I would also like to express my appreciation to ADB-DutchCham for being a strong advocate of greater Singapore-Dutch collaboration. Tonight’s awards allow us to take stock of our longstanding cooperation as well as recognise the achievements of the Dutch and Singapore companies.
28 There is so much more we can do together on both the bilateral and multilateral front. All these would not be possible without the people in front of me. It is you, in partnership with fellow Singaporeans, that have taken this special relationship to greater heights. We look forward to ever closer cooperation with you, we look forward to having you as our partner as both of us continue to overcome our respective and shared challenges for tomorrow. The challenges you are facing are also the challenges that we face and between the two of us, I am confident that we have the mutual trust that allows us to exchange ideas and have young people working together to overcome many of these shared challenges. On that note, thank you for your friendship and partnership. I wish you all the very best and my congratulations to all winners this evening.