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Speech by Minister S Iswaran at the British Chamber of Commerce 20th Annual Business Awards Gala Dinner

Speech by Minister S Iswaran at the British Chamber of Commerce 20th Annual Business Awards Gala Dinner

Her Excellency Kara Owen, 

British High Commissioner to Singapore 

Dr Bicky Bhangu, 

President of the British Chamber of Commerce Singapore

Distinguished guests, 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

1. A very good evening to all.  Thank you for inviting me to join you for this very special 20th anniversary of the Annual Business Awards – two decades of celebrating excellence in UK and Singapore businesses. 

2. This is undoubtedly a reflection of the longstanding, resilient and multi-faceted partnership between the UK and Singapore.

The Longstanding Presence of UK Businesses in Singapore

3. UK businesses have a long history of involvement in Singapore.  As Singapore commemorates the Bicentennial of the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles, we remember the many UK businesses with over a 100-year presence, which helped shape modern Singapore. HSBC opened its first office in Singapore in 1877, providing loans to Chinese merchants and financing import, export and entrepot trade.  Shell came to Singapore in 1891, and was responsible for building Singapore’s first oil refinery on Pulau Bukom in 1961. 

4. British heritage is also evident in several prominent Singapore businesses.  Engineering services and geo-spatial technology group Boustead Singapore had its beginnings in Boustead & Co, a key player in the commodity trade between Europe and the Far East, founded by English businessman Edward Boustead.  Keppel Corporation bears the name of British Navy Captain Henry Keppel, who recognised the potential of the sheltered and deep water harbour that was central to Singapore’s early success as a port of call for British steamships in 1848. 

5. These and many other British businesses brought with them an outward-looking and venturing spirit, and seized opportunities by using Singapore as a strategic trading hub.  They have left a lasting legacy which is manifested in the open and global-minded outlook that Singapore espouses to this day. 

Singapore wants to continue growing and enhancing our trade and investment ties with the UK

6. Two centuries on, we want to continue growing and enhancing our trade and investment ties with the UK.  I am pleased that UK businesses are expanding their presence and activities in Singapore.  In July 2019, Rolls Royce and A*STAR invested a further S$8 million in the joint Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre with Singapore Aero Engine Services, bringing the total investment of their five-year collaboration to close to S$70 million. In the same month, GSK opened a new S$130 million pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Jurong that was developed as part of the GSK-EDB 10-year Singapore Manufacturing Roadmap. It reaffirms GSK’s commitment to Singapore as a key manufacturing and supply site for its global pharmaceutical business, and a testbed for advanced manufacturing technology. 

7. We should continue to build on these diverse and robust trade and investment ties, by forging even stronger collaboration in mutually beneficial sectors, trade agreements and deeper connectivity.  

Partnership for the Future – Seizing new growth opportunities together

8. The digital economy is a new modality through which we can deepen our existing ties. Much like maritime connections, the digital economy can be a force multiplier that allows us to surpass limitations of size and distance.  It has created new business models and new growth opportunities. 

9. This potential is quite significant. The ASEAN digital economy alone is expected to triple in size, and grow to US$240 billion by 2025.  In the UK, the tech sector has been a bright spot, remaining resilient through global and domestic uncertainties. Over the past two decades, UK-based entrepreneurs have built 72 unicorns, including 13 in the past year alone.  This is more than any other country apart from the US and China.

10. As like-minded partners, the UK and Singapore can work together to seize these new opportunities.  Recognising this, the UK and Singapore jointly launched the UK-Singapore Partnership for the Future (P4F) earlier this year to deepen our collaboration in ongoing and new areas including the digital economy.  Let me share how we can harness the potential of the digital economy on two levels.

11. First, between the public and private sectors.  Given the dynamic nature of the digital economy, it is essential that the government and the private sector work together as trusted partners and joint creators of solutions. To that end, in June 2019, we established the Digital Industry Singapore (DISG) office to transform the way the Singapore government engages the technology sector.  DISG provides a first-stop for digital industry-related matters for companies, and seeks to work with companies across the spectrum of enterprise needs to secure talent and market access, build capabilities and internationalise.

12. In addition, we want to encourage more companies to harness new technologies for growth.  In April 2019, Enterprise Singapore supported the launch of the Singapore Ecommerce Enterprises Development (SEED) Office in the UK.  The SEED Office, a consortium of Singapore e-commerce solutions companies, aims to facilitate European and UK brands’ access to ASEAN’s fast-growing middle class through e-commerce. 

13. In July 2019, together with the UK and six other countries , Singapore also launched a joint call for innovation projects under the EUREKA GlobalStars Programme .  This marks Singapore’s first partnership with EUREKA, an established intergovernmental network of over 40 countries that supports market-oriented research and development.  The joint call seeks to encourage greater cross-border collaboration in research and innovation across all sectors, including key sectors such as medical technology, smart mobility and logistics, and advanced manufacturing. 

14. A second level is for countries to work together to write modern trade rules for the new digital economy. Singapore, Australia and Japan are co-leads for the WTO Joint Statement Initiative on E-Commerce, which was launched to develop common rules and disciplines on e-commerce for the global trading community.  Even as we work on a multilateral platform, we are also pursuing bilateral and plurilateral initiatives to complement the larger strategy, as we push for more high-ambition initiatives and outcomes.  Singapore is negotiating a new form of digital partnership with New Zealand and Chile, and in discussions to deepen cooperation for the digital economy with Australia. 

Conclusion


15. There are uncertainties ahead, and as longstanding partners, I do not want to understate the challenges that the UK may face in the next few months.  However, I believe the British reputation for fortitude, gumption and stoicism will hold British businesses in good stead and allow you to flourish notwithstanding the challenges that come your way.  The long histories of many of your companies are testament to this. 

16. I look forward to enduring UK-Singapore business ties in the years ahead.  I would like to propose a toast to the British businesses here, and congratulate all of tonight’s award-winners. 


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