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Keynote Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Finance, at The ASEAN and Asia Focus 2021: Partnerships in Economic Recovery and Sustainable Infrastructure on 31 Mar 2021, at The Fullerton Hotel

31 Mar 2021
Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs; 

Ambassador Jun Yamazaki, Ambassador of Japan to Singapore,

Ladies and Gentlemen

And all of you who are watching virtually,

Good morning.

2. Thank you for inviting me to join you at ASEAN and Asia Focus (AAF) 2021 organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA). 

3. The theme for today’s forum, Partnerships in Economic Recovery and Sustainable Infrastructure, is an important one. 

4. Singapore has a strong tradition of openness. As a small, open city-state, we have maintained the vibrancy of our society by enabling the global flow of goods, ideas, capital and people through our shores. 

5. The world is seeing a rise in structural shifts challenging the notion of globalisation. Today, protectionism over supply chains, resources, data, and technology is being accelerated by a heightened sense of vulnerability and distrust, brought about by COVID-19.

6. Yet, the challenges that we face today cannot be dealt with by individual countries alone. Issues such as the COVID-19 virus and climate change simply don’t respect any borders. To effectively tackle these issues, countries must work together. 

Emerging from COVID-19 together

7. The immediate priority is to tackle COVID-19 and its impact on our economy. 

8. At the start of the pandemic, we worked quickly to maintain supply chain connectivity with the region and beyond, and refrained from imposing export restrictions on essential goods.  

a. This is important not just for responding to COVID-19 but also in maintaining long-term trade connectivity and promoting closer interdependence.  

i. On this front, we, together with other countries such as Australia, Canada, China, New Zealand and Republic of Korea, have affirmed our commitment to supply chain connectivity. 

ii. This includes expediting customs procedures, refraining from imposing export restrictions on essential items, and ensuring the continued operation of logistics networks.

9. We are also playing a key role in international efforts to combat COVID-19. This is important because returning to our way of life and economic recovery will remain stunted for as long as there are countries that have yet to suppress COVID-19. 

10. Under the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF) and its Implementation Plan, Singapore will work with fellow ASEAN Member States on initiatives to mitigate and address the impact of COVID-19 and address future public health emergencies.

a. This includes initiatives to enhance public health systems, ensure continued supply chain connectivity, accelerate inclusive digital transformation and strengthen human security. 

b. Singapore has also contributed US$100,000 to the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund, which helps ASEAN member states procure medical supplies and equipment needed to combat the pandemic. 

11. In addition, Singapore strongly supports and actively participates in the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, or the COVAX Facility. Under the COVAX Advance Market Commitment mechanism, subsidised vaccines will be allocated to 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries.  

a. Singapore has contributed US$5 million to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment. 

12. Corporates too can play a part, such as making valuable contributions to COVAX or facilitating the transportation and distribution of vaccines. 

Longer-term challenges

13. Even while we work on tackling COVID-19, we must not lose sight of longer-term challenges facing our nation and region. One such challenge is climate change. 

14. Climate change poses an existential threat for Southeast Asia. 

a. In the last 45 years, the most economically damaging events in Southeast Asia were climate-related ones. These include water shortages, droughts and floods, coastal inundation, forest fires and infectious diseases. 
b. According to the Asian Development Bank’s forecast, climate change could reduce the region’s GDP by 11 percent by the end of the century if left unchecked.

15. Beyond climate change, Asia is also seeing one of the fastest ageing populations globally. 

a. This affects sustainable development, with impact on poverty levels, health and well-being, employment and inequality.

Need for long-term resilience

16. In the face of these long-term challenges, investment into sustainable infrastructure that integrates environmental and social aspects is critical. 

a. Countries will need to invest in resource-efficiency and climate-proof infrastructure to respond to climate change, and 

b. Continue to invest in healthcare infrastructure and facilities to meet projected healthcare needs in a sustainable way. It is estimated that by 2030, elderly healthcare expenditure would reach US$2.5 trillion per year, five times the annual expenditure in 2015. 

17. These investments have the potential to create jobs, income and growth while ensuring climate, social and economic resilience in the face of climate change, ageing population or other shocks.

18. Financing sustainable infrastructure developments in the region to tackle these challenges is a key long-term priority. 

a. The Asian Development Bank estimates that Southeast Asia alone requires approximately US$3.1 trillion investments by 2030 for climate change-adjusted infrastructure investments.

Building a sustainable future together

19. On the climate front, Singapore has embarked on multiple initiatives to support investments into sustainable infrastructure. 

a. Through Clifford Capital, we have partnered with the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank on sustainable infrastructure financing. 

i. Specifically, the Bayfront Infrastructure Management (BIM) was established to mobilise private institutional capital and gradually develop sustainable infrastructure as a new asset class,

ii. Through the application of robust environmental, social, and corporate governance criteria.

b. We are also working closely with the World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank through their offices in Singapore to mobilise private sector investments in financing and building quality infrastructure.  

20. We also established Infrastructure Asia in October 2018, as a one-stop platform to support and catalyse infrastructure financing and development in the region. 
a. Infrastructure Asia’s work includes early project scoping, best practice sharing, brokering, and harnessing Singapore’s best-in-class infrastructure ecosystem. 

b. One such example is the Growing Infrastructure Course that Infrastructure Asia partnered with World Bank Group and the Singapore Management University to implement. This supports capacity building for the region’s government officials.  

i. I understand that the most recent module focuses on attracting international finance and innovation into clean energy projects, 

ii. And subsequent modules in the year will focus on other sectors such as digital infrastructure and logistics and supply chain.

21. Our Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also helps companies access financing as they invest in green assets, projects, or move towards more sustainable business models. Its grants absorb the incremental costs of reviewing the green or sustainability characteristics of such loans and bonds.

a. The MAS’ Sustainable Bond Grant Scheme supports the issuances of green, social, sustainability and sustainability-linked bonds. 

i. This has supported investments into sustainable infrastructure such as renewable energy and green buildings.

b. MAS’ Green and Sustainability-Linked Loan Grant Scheme supports the issuance of green and sustainability-linked loans, and encourages banks to develop green and sustainability-linked loan frameworks to make such financing more accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises.
i. Through the grant, banks have introduced frameworks supporting financing of sustainable infrastructure activities. 

22. On the social front, Singapore has embarked on many domestic initiatives to ensure a sustainable future for our seniors. We have been investing sustainably in healthcare infrastructure and facilities to meet our current and projected healthcare needs, especially as our population continues to grow and age.

a. Recently in February, we rolled out a new public housing concept, to expand the continuum of residential options for seniors today.

i. These Community Care Apartments will offer seniors, aged 65 and above, an affordable housing option that integrates senior-friendly design features with care services that can be scaled according to individual care needs. 

ii. This enables them to age-in-place. 

iii. There are also programmes to enable meaningful social interactions amongst residents to foster community support.

iv. As this is a new housing concept, we launched the first pilot site alongside an exhibition to give seniors a better understanding and appreciation of the new Community Care Apartments. Both the first pilot and the exhibition have been very well-received, and we are studying plans for a second pilot.   

23. Across Asia, we are all facing fast ageing populations.  We can all learn from one another in terms of innovations in policy, healthcare and technology.

Building long-term resilience

24. In closing, I would like to stress that while today’s challenges are daunting, they also present opportunities for growth and building long-term climate, social and economic resilience. 

a. As we enter the second year of the pandemic, we must strive to emerge stronger from this crisis.  

25. We must strengthen the partnerships amongst countries and amongst companies, academia and Governments so that we can develop and implement effective solutions to overcome challenges and build a sustainable future for all. 

a. I would encourage companies to continue to invest in the region, 

b. And for policy makers and members of the academia to openly share your ideas and experience,   

c. so that we can all work together to turn challenges into opportunities, create economic growth in the region, and adapt to long-term challenges. 

26. I wish you all a very fruitful forum. Thank you very much.