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Keynote Address by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in The Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Finance and National Development, at The RHT CABA ASEAN Summit 2021, on 17 September 2021

17 Sep 2021
Professor Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute  

Her Excellency Joanne Diedre Tyndall, High Commissioner, New Zealand High Commission in Singapore

His Excellency Joseph Del Mar Yap, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Embassy of the Republic of Philippines in Singapore  

His Excellency Dato’ Azfar Mohamad Mustafar, High Commissioner (Designate), Malaysia High Commission in Singapore
Ladies and Gentlemen 

1. Good morning. I am delighted to be here with you virtually at the seventh (7th) edition of the RHT CABA ASEAN Summit.

2. The theme for this year’s Summit, “Advancing Towards a More Sustainable And Resilient Future”, is an important and timely one.

3. COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented global disruptions, and accelerated long-term structural shifts in the global economy.

a. Firstly, COVID-19 has disrupted international trade. As a result, countries have begun working towards more self-reliance, especially for essential goods. We are also seeing signs of a more fragmented global order, with growing geopolitical and economic tensions on multiple fronts, such as trade and technology.

b. Secondly, COVID-19 has accelerated the need to restructure global supply chains, to reduce concentration risks and strengthen resilience.  

c. Thirdly, the challenges posed by COVID-19, such as the need for safe distancing, have accelerated the switch to a digital economy, creating new opportunities for businesses to access markets and talent across geographical boundaries. 

4. Beyond COVID-19, there are other long-term challenges impacting the region, such as climate change. 

a. Climate change poses a significant threat to human health, ecosystems and the region’s economic future. With much of the region’s population and infrastructure located in coastal areas, the region is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as rising sea-level and floods. 

b. Today, in Singapore, temperatures are 1.8 degrees Celsius higher than they were in 1948, due to global warming. In its recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessed that Singapore will experience even higher temperatures in the coming decades, if global greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced.   

c. Further, the Asian Development Bank has estimated that Southeast Asia’s gross domestic product (GDP) may be reduced by 11% in 2100, as a result of economic losses from climate change. 

5. Therefore, even as we deal with the immediate impact of COVID-19, we must prepare for the post-COVID-19 future. There are two aspects:

a. Firstly, we must nimbly position ourselves to seize new opportunities arising from the structural shifts brought about or accelerated by COVID-19.

b. Secondly, we must respond to new challenges and risks by re-calibrating our environmental, economic and social strategies.    

6. No country can achieve this alone. International cooperation is critical. This is especially true for Singapore. 

a. Singapore is a small economy and her continued success is premised on staying well-connected to the world. 

b. Being very small, Singapore’s own mitigation efforts to tackle global challenges like climate change will have limited impact. It is only by working together with others that Singapore can overcome such challenges. 

7. I would like to highlight two areas of cooperation, which will benefit businesses and professional services in Asia. 

Strengthening trade and supply chain connectivity

8. Countries should work together to strengthen trade and supply chain connectivity. This is essential:

a. to global economic recovery and prosperity; and

b. to enable countries to respond effectively in managing future pandemics.  

9. I would like to highlight some examples of the progress that has been made on this front. 

a. Under the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, ASEAN member states have recognised the need to: 

i. intensify intra-ASEAN trade and investment to strengthen supply chain resilience and regional value chains; and 

ii. establish the region as a competitive market.

b. To this end, ASEAN member states have agreed to an “Implementation Plan” which seeks to implement specific initiatives and programmes aimed at enhancing trade liberalisation and economic integration.

c. The “Joint Ministerial Statement on Ensuring Supply Chain Connectivity” during the COVID-19 pandemic is also worth mentioning. This Statement was issued by several countries in the region and beyond at the onset of COVID-19, to affirm their shared commitment to ensure the continuity and interconnectivity of supply chains during the pandemic. 

d. Lastly, we have the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, a key regional agreement and the world’s largest free-trade agreement to date. I understand that the RCEP will be discussed at the panel sessions later. 

e. Singapore has ratified the RCEP and I look forward to others doing the same before its targeted date of entry into force on 1 January 2022.       

10. I am heartened by these developments. They will: 

a. deepen engagements at both the government-to-government and business-to-business levels; 

b. create more opportunities for professional services firms to advise on cross-border supply chain issues; and

c. provide a strong anchor for greater economic integration in the region and even beyond. 

New areas of economic growth 

11. Countries should cooperate on new areas of economic growth. 

12. One such area is the green economy. 

a. COVID-19 has accelerated the focus on environmental sustainability. 

b. Commitments to tackle climate issues have been increasing. To name a few examples:

i. the European Green Deal, which aims to turn the European Union (EU) into the first climate neutral continent by 2050;

ii. China’s 2060 carbon neutrality pledge; and

iii. the increasing number of net zero commitments from corporates. 

13. Singapore has a comprehensive national strategy, the Singapore Green Plan 2030, to secure a green, liveable and sustainable home for our future generations. 

14. Singapore is also exploring Green Economy Agreements to: 

a. facilitate trade and investment in environmental goods and services; and 

b. strengthen environmental governance and capabilities. 

15. Due to these growing climate ambitions, there will be new business opportunities in the green economy. Green transport, green infrastructure and green power are some examples. 

16. Green finance will be an important enabler of our sustainability efforts. 

a. In Singapore, our National Environment Agency has taken the lead, by launching a S$3 billion multicurrency medium-term note programme, and a green bond framework, to finance the development of sustainable waste management infrastructure. 

b. This will serve as a benchmark in the market for attracting green issuers, capital and investors.
c. Our Monetary Authority of Singapore is also driving Singapore’s Green Finance Action Plan to develop green finance solutions and markets for a sustainable economy. 

d. These initiatives will catalyse the flow of capital towards sustainable development, not just in Singapore, but in Asia. 

17. There will also be new opportunities for professional services, as businesses incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations into their day-to-day decision making.

a. Some of the challenges requiring the help of professional services range from: 

i. securing green finance, ESG reporting, and supply chain management,  

ii. to designing and implementing carbon offset programmes and managing stakeholder activism. 

b. We are already seeing some of our professional services firms moving quickly into this growth area.

i. For example, this year, two of our Big Four law firms, Rajah & Tann and WongPartnership, launched new sustainability practices to help their clients navigate ESG issues. 


18. To conclude, the challenges of a post-COVID-19 future present many opportunities for growth. Countries must position themselves as partners for growth, and foster win-win partnerships with their neighbours. Only then would we be able to emerge stronger together from this crisis.  

19. I would encourage all participants to make full use of this Summit to forge new connections and contribute ideas on how governments and businesses can work together to build a sustainable and resilient future for the region. 

20. I wish all of you a very fruitful Summit. Thank you very much.