Speech MOS Alvin Tan at the 8th ANDI Colombian Business Congress

Speech MOS Alvin Tan at the 8th ANDI Colombian Business Congress

1. Sr. Bruce MacMaster, Presidente de ANDI, Excelencias, distinguidos invitados, señoras y señores,


2. Buenas tardes No hablo español, pero intentaré al principio de mi discurso. Y hablaré en inglés por el resto. Por favor, perdónenme si cometo algún error. Agradezco al Sr. Bruce MacMaster por invitarme a hablar.


3. Estoy emocionado de estar de regreso en Colombia, esta vez en la vibrante e histórica ciudad magica de Cartagena. Visité Bahía Málaga en enero pasado para presenciar la firma del acuerdo de libre comercio de Alianza del Pacifico.


4. Un hito en la relación económica de Singapur con Colombia y la Alianza del Pacífico. ¿Por qué he vuelto? - trienta horas - tres aviones - Vente mil kilometros separados por el Océano Pacífico. Un viaje un poco largo


5. Sr. MacMaster me ha dado esta oportunidad de responder esta pregunta compartiendo el camino de innovación de Singapur. I shall not torture you anymore with my broken Spanish.


An Improbable Nation


6. Singapore is an improbable nation which will cease to exist if we do not innovate. Innovation is imperative to our survival. We are a small island, only 728sq km, with no land, no wind, no water, no chance. We have about 5.8M people, Colombia has about 52.2 million. 58 years ago, we left Malaysia. The British had also left us. We were on our own, but we had two natural endowments: first was our strategic location at the heart of Asia and the world’s maritime trade. The second natural endowment is our people.


7. To survive, we had to be creative. Think out of the box. Innovate.


Singapore Today


8. Today, I am thankful to report Singapore is one of the most innovative nations in the world, and at the heart of global trade, commerce, culture. We are ranked 1st EIU’s Best Business Environment Index, 2nd in WB’s Easing of Doing Business Index, 2nd in IMD Competitive Index Ranking and1st in Asia.WIPO 2022 - 7th most innovative economy in the world on its annual Global Innovation Index. Constantly top 10 annually.  We rank in this ranking1st globally across 11 indicators, including government effectiveness, ICT access, venture capital investors, and high-tech manufacturing.


9. Our innovation eco-system continues to grow in size and dynamism. We have over 40 unicorns, over 4,000 startups, over 400 venture capital firms, about 220 accelerators and incubators, and 80 of world’s top 100 tech companies have presence in Singapore, with many establishing their RHQs, and some form of R&D here. And 80 of world’s top 100 tech companies have presence in Singapore, with many establishing their RHQs, and some form of R&D here.


10. This did not happen overnight. It took decades of commitment, investment, hard work. It is also recognition of what we do not have – small and limited resources. We must quickly move up the value chain, and companies must innovate to compete in the global marketplace.


Our Innovation Journey


11. Friends not familiar with Singapore, allow me to share more about our journey:

i. Last week, we celebrated Singapore’s 58th birthday. It is young nation compared to Colombia (213yo)

ii. 58 years ago in August 1965, we had no domestic industry. We depended on others for food, energy, and even water. Our unemployment was close to 9%. How did we then grow this nation?

iii. Our first priority was to create jobs. We focused on export-led industrialisation and attracting global MNCs to invest in Singapore and accelerate our industrial growth.


12. From the 1960s - 1970s, we slowly but surely moved up the value chain. We evolved from a labour-intensive economy to a capital and skills intensive economy. We built infrastructure, developed industrial land, and also made reforms to labour laws.Earlier there was a panel on education, which is important. We invested in education, develop technical skills, support rapidly growing manufacturing sector which now accounts for 23% of our GDP. We also put in place sound fiscal and monetary policies to ensure that Singapore remained attractive to foreign investors.


13. By mid-1970s, we grew substantive industrial base.We saw the emergence of higher value-added economic clusters – electronics, petrochemicals, and precision engineering.By 1980s, tiny Singapore was the world’s largest producer and manufacturer of hard disk drives.


14. But the journey was not smooth, we hit foul weather. But in 1985, Singapore went into recession, while global economy continued to grow. It was a wake-up call for Singapore, because it revealed several structural challenges, including diminishing cost advantage and reality of resource constraints.The recession made us review our industrial policies and implement new structural reforms. This included promoting innovation, enterprise, and entrepreneurship in our economy.


15. In 1991, we launched our first five-year National Technology Plan to develop advanced tech capabilities to move us up the economic value chain.


16. In 2010, we expanded our R&D strategy to include “Innovation and Enterprise” – our Research, Innovation and Enterprise or “RIE” plans. The RIE plan was to grow a research-intensive, innovative and entrepreneurial economy, and the emphasis was on translating research into commercial outcomes.


17. We continued to roll out successive 5-year RIE plans and the RIE2025 budget ~ USD19B from 2021 to 2025, or 1% of our GDP.But it allowed us to expand research capabilities of our universities and research agencies, including our Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). One of RIE 2025’s priorities is scaling up platforms to drive tech translation and strengthen innovation capabilities of our enterprises. We are also building a culture of “technopreneurship” and fostering a dynamic innovation and startup ecosystem, by offering assistance


18. We learnt innovation is not just about generating research output and having great ideas. It is It’s about transforming our research and ideas into creative solutions that bring value to our businesses, people, and our economy. We continue to place great importance on translating ideas into tangible and realisable outcomes.


Transforming our industries through innovation


19. With innovation in our DNA, we continue to transform our industries.In 2016, we launched 23 Industry Transformation Maps, which are strategic roadmaps to promote growth and competitiveness for 23 key industries:

i. precision engineering

ii. logistics

iii. wholesale trade

iv. financial services

v. food manufacturing.


20. To develop these maps, we studied each industry, future trends, and what our industries and workers need. We also partnered industry, trade associations and chambers, unions and institutes of higher learning.


21. Allow me to tell you more about these maps. Each map has 4 pillars: productivity, skills, internationalisation and innovation. Under this innovation pillar, we study how each industry can use tech to drive innovation and create value, how we can help companies upgrade, develop products, services, and brands and to create conducive regulatory environment and national standards for businesses to innovate and adopt tech.


Innovating our Agri-Tech Sector


22. Let me use our Agri-tech sector as an example to illustrate. I shared earlier about us being land scarce. First, she is 728sqkm - 1,600x smaller than Colombia, < 1% of our land dedicated to agriculture. To enhance we have a “30 by 30” goal – produce 30% of our population’s nutritional needs locally by 2030.


23. But how do we achieve this goal? We need to diversify food imports from difference source markets, help our companies go overseas and export back home, and to grow our local production.


24. To grow local food production, we are building and anchoring new agri-tech capabilities in Singapore.Agritech allowed us to increase our number of farms and raise efficiency of our agrifood activities, bypassing our longstanding constraints of land, climate, and labour. To do this effectively, we are focused on (1) Funding, (2) Regulation and (3) Talent.


(1) Funding


25. In 2019, we launched Singapore Food Story R&D Programme, focusing on aquaculture, urban agriculture, future foods and food safety. We committed USD$225M to this programme.


26. Even today, we continue to invest into R&D and infrastructure.


  · Setting up an Agri-Food Innovation Park to bring together high-tech farming and R&D activities, including indoor plant factories, insect farms, and animal feed production facilities.

  · Co-investing in agri-tech startups, catalysing innovation and crowding in private capital.


27. Today, we have a vibrant agri-tech innovation sector, with growing ecosystem of VC firms, accelerators, multinationals, and startups.


(2) Regulation


28. Regulation plays key role.


  · Allow regulatory space for experimentation, so that we can take bold steps in new areas such as cell-cultured meat (meat that is grown in a lab)

  · Our Singapore Food Agency developed a robust novel foods safety assessment framework – a regulatory sandbox – allows companies and startups to showcase their products safely, whilst gaining early feedback to improve on appearance, taste, and texture of the new foods.

  · Singapore was the first country with a regulatory framework to approve testing and sale of cultured meat products.


(3) Talent


29. We are investing in our talent, developing our people’s skills and knowledge.


  · Two years ago, we opened a new training facility to develop talent for our agri-tech industry to support our “30 by 30” goal.

  ·       Trainees were taught basics of growing crops, farming tech, farm ops, and automation.

  · Also learnt how to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning into farming ops.



A Learning Journey With Friends


30. Thank you for letting me share our journey of innovation.


31. It’s been a learning journey, marked by trial and error, some expensive lessons, and learning from our friends.


32. We developed our RIE 2025 plans from the experiences of Sweden, Finland, and Israel.


33. We built our Agri-tech sector learning from US, Israel and the Netherlands.


34. We have plenty to learn from Colombia, and our friends and family from Latin America.


  · Latin America’s innovation ecosystem is thriving. Many global companies have established new R&D and corporate innovation arms here to innovate for, and with, Latin American consumers.


  · Exciting developments in fintech, sustainable development, artificial intelligence, and e-mobility.


35. Our companies are also keen to build innovation partnerships with Latin American companies, to co-innovate and co-create new products and services for our communities.



Conclusion [Delivered in Spanish]


36. Singapore is honoured and privileged to be a friend of Colombia, and a family member through the Pacific Alliance.


37. We made the ~30 hour journey to Cartagena, because we want to be among family and friends from across the Pacific Ocean.


38. There is plenty for us to share, learn and do together. I hope my sharing today on Singapore’s road to innovation and economic transformation has been helpful.


39. I hope it will inspire us to pursue partnerships and collaboration as we execute our respective national innovation strategies.


40. Thank you Bruce and our friends from ANDI for inviting us.


41. I wish Singapore and Colombia will continue to grow in our friendship between our businesses and our people.


 42. Muchas Gracias.


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