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Measures in Budget to help firms, Singaporeans stay relevant: Chan Chun Sing

17 Jan 2020
Grace Ho 

While Singapore saw a surge in investments last year, it remains exposed to external downside risks and has to do more to shore up domestic productivity, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.

For companies and Singaporeans concerned about being left behind, the Government will announce measures in the next Budget to help them upskill, reskill and seize new opportunities, he added.

He was speaking yesterday at an interview on his ministry's year in review and outlook for 2020.

Figures released by the Economic Development Board yesterday showed that Singapore exceeded its forecast for investment commitments last year by pulling in $15.2 billion, 39 per cent more than in 2018.

But Mr Chan cautioned against complacency, noting that the investment climate remains challenging and competitive.

"While the numbers are very good from last year, it doesn't mean we have won every investment that we desired," he said.

"Year on year, there will be fluctuations, with some (years) higher than others. We should take a multi-year perspective... Different investments have different horizons, and they will be progressively implemented across the economy, creating the new jobs."

Referring to the phase one trade deal signed on Wednesday between the United States and China, he said there remain key differences between the two countries - from how they use technology to the way they organise their economies, production, and research and development.

Ongoing US-China tensions and technological disruption have also led to shifting supply chains, he said, adding that whether Singapore can play an important role in these depends on how it positions itself.

Another potential disruptor he highlighted is the base erosion and profit shifting initiative, or BEPS 2.0. The initiative, by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, aims to clamp down on multinational enterprises exploiting gaps and mismatches between different countries' tax systems.

Its two pillars - one giving jurisdictions new taxing rights, and the other ensuring a minimum tax on foreign profits - if widely adopted, will significantly impact how countries compete for investments and how corporate profits are allocated and taxed, Mr Chan said.

There are also domestic challenges to contend with in Singapore, from improving the competitiveness of firms to upgrading the skills of older workers, he added.
Highlighting the many new opportunities in sectors such as agri-tech, food science, precision and additive manufacturing and robotics, he said it is not enough for Singapore to be part of the global value chain - it has to entrench itself so that it is not easily displaced.

To this end, the Government will announce schemes during Budget 2020 to help companies scale up and digitalise, and customise programmes for them to grow sustainably, he said.

"In the past, enterprise transformation was about giving grants and subsidies. We must redesign processes and operating models, and spare no effort in enterprise transformation, company by company," he said.

For workers in their 40s and 50s, he also gave the assurance that there will be measures to support their lifelong learning so they can stay employable for life.

"It is not easy for mid-career professionals to make the switch, as they have responsibilities," he noted. "We have to structure the training in a way that is easier for them.

"Our promise to everyone is this - never mind if you are unable, so long as you are willing."