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Speech by Minister S Iswaran at the Singapore Symposium 2019

Speech by Minister S Iswaran at the Singapore Symposium 2019

Shri Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways and Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen, 

Good evening. I am delighted to see all of you here. 

1. To have a bit more opportunity for a discussion, I am going to keep my remarks fairly brief and share some key points with you.

2. The first point I would like to make is that the global centre of gravity for economic activity has certainly and quite irreversibly moved towards Asia. This is driven by what we see in the global activities in India, China and Southeast Asia; three large markets with tremendous potential and significant reach. This is underpinned by middle class growth, rising incomes, the adoption of technologies and the readiness we wish to move ahead with these new technologies in order to realise new opportunities. In that context, it has been suggested that in this year alone, Asia will account for about 60% of global growth. This suggests the dynamism and the opportunities that we have within Asia. When you combine that with regional integration efforts, bilateral initiatives, efforts to harmonise regulations, and bring together and connect economies and businesses, I think we have the makings of a very strong and potent mix of factors which can helm significant growth for several years to come and in decades to come. 

3. In terms of the regional efforts, I want to make a special mention of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, of which India and Singapore are participants. It is an opportunity for us to bring the region together with a far-sighted and ambitious agreement, which will then lead to opportunities for our businesses and our people. Efforts like this and many others that have been undertaken, including the CPTPP which Singapore is a party too, are important at this juncture, especially where we see on one hand the rise of anti-globalisation sentiments, and on the other hand, tensions, in this case, between say the US and China, which is beginning to post real challenges to the global multilateral trading system, and the supply chains that we all have come to take for granted. 

4. At a time like this, it is essential that like-minded countries such as India and Singapore work together at the multilateral level like the WTO, but also in regional efforts like the RCEP, and certainly bilaterally. On the bilateral front, Singapore and India have good relations and it has been growing steadily. Our trade in goods has doubled from S$11.8 billion in 2004 to S$26.4 billion in 2018. We’ve had significant investments by Singapore companies in India in a range of sectors including in industrial and IT parks, smart cities projects, development of ports, airports and other infrastructure efforts. Equally importantly, we’ve seen Indian companies investing in Singapore and using Singapore as their launchpad from which to explore opportunities in Southeast Asia. This is the two-way flow that we want to see a greater momentum to, and we want to see how we can advance that objective collectively, with the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi which has been returned with a resounding mandate. 

5. In that regard, I would like to leave you with three thoughts - which can become a part of the discussion later. These three ideas are underpinned by the digitalisation of the economy. We know that digitalisation is transforming every sector, changing business models, changing the nature of jobs, and the kind of skills that we need. But what it also means is that India and Singapore have an opportunity to explore new ways of working together at the multilateral and regional levels, riding on digitalisation and the evolution of the digital economy.

6. First is in trade facilitation. To support its “Make in India” initiative, India’s efforts to enhance its connectivity infrastructure have focused on ports, airports and highways. Singapore companies like PSA have been involved in these efforts including in the Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Navi Mumbai.

7. Beyond the physical infrastructure, we think countries need to focus on the digital infrastructure. Many countries are developing national single window platforms to digitalise trade documentation. This increases transparency and reduces the manual process associated with customs clearances. It also allows for the flow of data between people, businesses and governments. I am aware that India has launched its Single Window Interface for Facilitating Trade (‘SWIFT’) project, which provides a one-stop portal for obtaining import permits such as for plant and animal certificates. To further enhance the ease of doing business, we can explore linking India’s single window with Singapore’s national single window platform – known as the Networked Trade Platform, or NTP. This will enable the cross-border exchange of digital trade information between businesses and governments. This is the kind of digital connectivity that helps businesses, and small and medium size businesses in particular, would be major beneficiaries. 

8. The second area is in FinTech. During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Singapore last year, both countries agreed to collaborate on FinTech and innovation as a new area under our Strategic Partnership. The FinTech Joint Working Group between the India Department of Economic Affairs and Monetary Authority of Singapore aims to encourage industry cooperation between FinTech firms and financial institutions. For example, India’s Immediate Payment Service (‘IMPS’) and Singapore’s Fast and Secure Transfer (‘FAST’) both allow for instant bank transfers in our respective countries. By linking the two systems, we could potentially revolutionise cross-border instant bank transfers. This would also be the foundation for more fintech solutions targeting cross-border payments.

9. Finally, an area that we should be focusing on is in emerging technologies. Governments are exploring how best to regulate the use of data for artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and Internet of Things. Creating a transparent and trusted policy will give developers, researchers and the public greater clarity and confidence on the ethical use of such data. I note that NITI Aayog has been examining an institutional framework for AI. There is scope for greater dialogue and exchange between Singapore and India on the guiding principles for such a framework, so that we learn from each other’s experience. Underpinning such discussions would also be the cross border transfer of information, that will enable businesses to aggregate data and optimise solutions.

10. What I have outlined is not just what India and Singapore already enjoy in terms of our bilateral relations and economic engagements, but also new areas of opportunities presented by the digital economy, which allow us to explore new degrees of freedom and new pathways in deepening the relations between our two countries. Some of these areas would be of special benefit to the SMEs and an, area of focus for us in Singapore as we help them to deepen their capabilities and internationalise, and certainly an area of focus for the Indian government. 

11. I want to conclude by saying that this, and the many other initiatives that we can think of are really aspects of how India and Singapore can deepen our partnership and realise greater mutual benefit for people and our businesses. We look forward to working closely with Prime Minister Modi and his government which has been returned with a resounding mandate. Thank you very much.

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