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Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance and Chairman of the National Research Foundation, at the Closing Ceremony of the France-Singapore Year of Innovation on 15 March 2019, 6.00pm, at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

15 Mar 2019
Your Excellency Mounir Mahjoubi
Secretary of State for Digital Affairs of France 

Professor Euston Quah
President of the Economic Society of Singapore

Prof Jean-Hervé Lorenzi
Chairman of Le Cercle des économistes,

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good evening

1. I am pleased to join all of you at the closing ceremony of the France-Singapore Year of Innovation in Singapore, and the closing of the second Rencontres Economiques.

Singapore’s Partnership with France in Innovation

2. Both Singapore and France believe that innovation is key to our future. 

a. Innovation enables us to better tackle many social, economic, and security challenges that we are facing. 

3. Hence, we are both seeking to make innovation pervasive throughout our society, and investing significantly in these efforts.  

a. In Singapore, we have committed 19 billion Singapore dollars, or about 12 billion Euros, over 5 years from 2016 to 2020 under our Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan. 

i. Under the plan, the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) work closely with our research institutes, universities and industries to advance research and innovation. 

ii. Singapore is also actively developing an eco-system that brings together researchers, companies and government officials, to transform Singapore into a vibrant R&D hub. 

b. We have also introduced 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) that articulate our efforts to promote innovation, deepen capabilities and encourage partnerships in each of these 23 industry segments.  

4. With our common emphasis, Singapore and France are natural partners in innovation. 

a. Former President Hollande and Prime Minister Lee issued the Joint Declaration on Innovation between France and Singapore in 2017 and designated 2018 as the France-Singapore Year of Innovation. 

b. Over 60 have been were organised, with the support of our respective embassies. By bringing together our businesses, entrepreneurs, researchers, students and officials, new areas for cooperation have been created.  Let me just highlight a few of these. 

c. To support the cross-border exchange of start-ups, we launched the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) activities in Paris, the first in Europe, making the city a gateway for our start-ups in Europe.

d. We also launched French Tech Singapore. It brings together French entrepreneurs in Singapore, and supports their ventures into the South-east Asia markets.  This complements the GIA activities in Paris.  

e. Singapore also made her debut appearance at the French tech convention, Viva Technology, in May 2018, with a large presence.  A few months later, Secretary of State Mahjoubi led a delegation of French start-ups to the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH). 

f. This year, SWITCH will be combined with the Singapore FinTech Festival to be held in the same week in mid-November.  I welcome all of you to attend, and to also participate in SLINGSHOT@SWITCH, an international start-up competition organised by Enterprise Singapore.

g. To support further collaborations, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and Bpifrance launched the first France-Singapore Call for Innovation Projects.  Applications for the first call will close on 31 March, and I strongly encourage French and Singapore companies to apply for this.

5. I am pleased to announce that following the Year of Innovation, France and Singapore have agreed to further our innovation partnership by setting up the France-Singapore Joint Committee on Science and Innovation.  The Committee will draw together the key players from both countries to foster partnerships with industry, develop the entrepreneurial ecosystems in France and Singapore, and promote greater exchange of research and innovation talent in areas of common interest. 

6. This initiative will support France’s ambition to establish a dynamic innovation hub in Europe and globally, and Singapore’s drive to position Singapore as a Global-Asia Node of Technology, Innovation and Enterprise.  Let us work closely together to support one another.  Building on what we have achieved together, we can now move to the next steps, to collaborate on medium-term initiatives and to inject momentum for new initiatives. 

Strengthening Ties with France and the EU

7. Our partnership in innovation builds on the close and broad-based relations over the years. 

a. French explorers, entrepreneurs, and educators were in Singapore before Singapore’s independence, and France was one of the first countries to recognise Singapore’s independence in 1965.  Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, France and Singapore have forged close and broad-based relations, based on a shared worldview and common interests.  Today, we enjoy robust cooperation in wide-ranging fields, including trade and investment, defence, education, culture, research and development, cybersecurity and energy. 

b. In 2018, France is Singapore’s second largest EU trading partner in goods, while we are France’s top trading partner in ASEAN, with total trade in goods amounting to about 21.3 billion Singapore dollars (or 14.0 billion Euros).  

c. More than 2,000 French companies are in Singapore, the second highest from a EU Member State.  Leading French companies in different sectors, such as Airbus, Bolloré Group, Engie, Roquette, Schneider Electric, and Thales have operations in Singapore, and also use Singapore as a base for their Asian operations. 

d. There are about 20,000 French people in Singapore, the second largest in Asia. 

e. Singapore companies such as Ascott Limited, City Developments Limited, Interplex, and ST Engineering also have presence in France.  

f. The strong bilateral relations between Singapore and France demonstrate our openness to international partnerships. 

8. Last month, the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) and the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement (EUSIPA) received the European Parliament’s consent with a strong majority.  This marks a significant milestone in Singapore and the EU’s long standing relationship, and our shared commitment towards a rules-based multilateral trading system.

a. The EU is Singapore’s largest partner in services, third largest trading partner in goods, and our largest foreign investor.  Over 10,000 EU companies are based in Singapore, making Singapore the top location for European investments in ASEAN.  Similarly, Singapore is the EU’s largest trading partner in both goods and services in ASEAN. 

b. The new trade and investment agreements will expand economic opportunities for EU and Singapore companies across many sectors.  By eliminating tariffs, improving market access for trade in services, and opening up government procurement opportunities and raising the level of protection for investors, we can take our economic relations to a higher level. 

c. So we look forward to the expeditious entry-into-force of the agreements.

Remaining Open to the World

9. One of the key questions discussed over the last two days at this Forum was, “What is the model of globalisation that benefits everyone?”.  I attended the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in January this year.  The theme “Globalisation 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, is similar what you have been discussing at this Forum. 

10. Having an open dialogue amidst a changing economic and geopolitical landscape is timely.

a. Support for globalisation is declining, and some are questioning its value. People feel they are left behind.  They are frustrated that wages are stagnating, political systems are malfunctioning, and lives are not improving. 

i. The Yellow Vests demonstrations in France are just one the more recent manifestations of this angst.  

ii. Similar discontent has erupted elsewhere, be it Brexit in the UK, the debate surrounding the 2016 US Presidential election, or the loss of support for moderate political leaders and centrism in the West. 

b. The decade of expansion post-Global Financial Crisis appears to be coming to an end. Global growth is expected to slow down in 2019, what The Economist termed “slowbalisation”. The IMF has revised its projection for global growth in 2019 downwards from 3.7% to 3.5%,

c. At the same time, the global economic weight is shifting towards Asia; and

d. There is increasing strategic competition among countries in different areas, as reflected in the US-China trade tensions.

11. Amid a resurgence in nationalist and protectionist sentiments around the world, we must continue to defend the rules-based multilateral trading system, which has been painstakingly built up over many decades.  We should improve the system where necessary.  Ultimately, a rules-based global system is key to peace and prosperity for the world and our people. In that regard, we are very glad that President Macron has been very supportive of globalisation.

a. Singapore has always supported an open, rules-based multilateral trading system, as embodied in the World Trade Organisation.  Being connected to the global market has allowed us to ride the wave of globalisation.

i. We grew from a third world city to a modern metropolis. 

ii. Globalisation opens up opportunities for our people. 

b. Singapore also strongly supports other multilateral platforms and international processes such as the UN, G20 and APEC, as well as our commitment to the Asia-Europe Meeting or ASEM, which bring countries together for international cooperation and strengthens ties.

12. Besides trade, all countries face common challenges, such as counter-terrorism, climate change, and ageing populations, which are best tackled together. 

a. In a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly interconnected, countries need to collaborate.  No country has all the expertise it needs. 

b. We will all need to find new solutions to future-proof our infrastructure, manage rising healthcare costs, and rethink the role and future of education. 

c. I am glad that France and Singapore are both committed to strengthening international cooperation, and working with like-minded countries to identify solutions to these challenges. 


13. In conclusion, I am confident that France and Singapore will continue to take our partnership to the next level.

a. The France-Singapore Year of Innovation has proven to be a very fruitful initiative.  It has shone a spotlight on the complementarities and synergies between our innovation ecosystems, and created greater opportunities for collaboration. 

b. The conclusion of the Year of Innovation marks a new phase in our innovation partnerships.  The establishment of the France-Singapore Joint Committee on Science and Innovation will help our research institutions, universities, businesses and start-ups to produce better results and outcomes to benefit our two countries and peoples, and to contribute to the broader global development.

14. I am also glad that the Rencontres Economiques, the final event in the France-Singapore Year of Innovation, has brought together leading academics, government officials and business leaders, to have a frank dialogue on the challenges of Industry 4.0 and Globalisation 4.0. 

a. Indeed, the approach to tackle these challenges and to reap the benefits of Industry 4.0 and Globalisation 4.0 will require greater partnerships at different levels and with different stakeholders.

b. Platforms like the Rencontres Economiques are therefore important for us to exchange ideas, reach out to one another and work together. 

c. No one has all the answers to the challenges that lie ahead of us.  It is only by working together that we can achieve better outcomes and build a more peaceful and prosperous world.  

15. Thank you.