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Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Finance at The Commemorative Event for Saudi G20 Presidency at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, on 16 November 2020

16 Nov 2020
His Excellency Saad Saleh Al Saleh
Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Republic of Singapore

Excellencies and Distinguished Guests

1. It is quite rare these days for us to have a face-to-face session, so I am glad to see all of you here together in this room. I want to thank the Saudi Embassy for inviting me to this commemorative event to mark the hosting of the G20 Leaders’ Summit by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

2. Saudi Arabia and Singapore enjoy close relations which have been growing and improving from year to year.

3. In November last year, President Halimah Yacob made a historic State Visit to Saudi Arabia.

a. This was the first by a Singapore Head-of-State to the Kingdom.  

b. During that visit, President Halimah and His Majesty King Salman affirmed our longstanding bilateral ties and discussed further avenues for cooperation. 

4. Our economic ties are also growing. 

a. Two-way trade and investments remain strong.

i. Saudi Arabia is Singapore’s major trading partner in the Middle East. 

ii. Singapore companies such as PSA International, ST Engineering, and SATS Ltd have established major operations there. 

iii. Likewise, Saudi household names like Aramco and SABIC have set up offices in Singapore.

b. We have also made good progress in:

i. Establishing a Saudi-Singapore Joint Committee; and 

ii. Reinvigorating the Saudi-Singapore Business Council.  

c. These initiatives provide us with a good base to explore new ways to enhance our economic links, in support of Saudi Vision 2030.

d. This year, of course, our relationship takes on greater significance because of Saudi Arabia’s heading of the G20.

5. So, let me start by saying that Singapore is honoured to have been invited by the Saudi Presidency to attend the G20 Summit and all the associated meetings this year. 

a. We hope that we managed to play our part in contributing ideas and action toward the Presidency’s priorities for the G20.

b. One good example is the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s support for Saudi Arabia’s inaugural G20 Techsprint event. 

i. This was a virtual hackathon where private sector players came together to develop technology solutions for financial regulators and supervisors. It was the first time that an event like this was happening under the G20, and the MAS came in to provide support for it.

6. When we look at what has happened through the year, and it has indeed been very exceptional, I think we all would recognise that Saudi Arabia assumed the mantle of leadership amidst very extraordinary times. 

a. At the beginning of the year, no one could have anticipated the severity of the disruptions brought about by COVID-19. I was very fortunate to have visited Riyadh in February for the G20 Finance Ministers’ Meeting, and I was hoping very much to have the chance to go back and visit again. But shortly after that, country by country just entered into lockdown and travel ground to a halt everywhere. Again, no one would have anticipated that. In fact, I recall at the G20 meeting in February, the mood was still relatively sanguine. People were hoping that this virus would come and go, and it would be confined to just a certain part of the world, and the world economy would be relatively unscathed. Look where we are today.

b. Despite the restrictions and the impact brought about by COVID-19, the Saudi Presidency managed to galvanise international responses to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated health, economic, and social consequences. 

c. Through over a hundred virtual meetings with member and guest countries across various workstreams, the Presidency led the G20 to develop a comprehensive G20 Action Plan that offers a set of near- and long-term policy options for us; not only to tackle the immediate crisis, but to emerge stronger.

d. Part of this also involves coordination efforts for bilateral creditors to participate in the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

7. Additionally, Saudi Arabia undertook extraordinary efforts to reach out to countries that are not part of the G20.

a. As I mentioned just now, the Presidency had included the views of guest countries like Singapore, and we, in turn, helped to represent the views of a wider global community in our capacity as Convenor of the Global Governance Group or the 3G. 

b. This is demonstration of Saudi Arabia’s theme of “Realising Opportunities of the 21st Century for All”. 

c. And we hope that future G20 Presidencies will continue this tradition.

8. As we approach the G20 Summit, I would like to share three wishes for a successful outcome:

a. First, we hope that the G20 will rally global support for the World Health Organisation; and its very critical efforts to develop safe and effective vaccines that can be distributed equitably and affordably worldwide. 

i. We cannot afford to get into vaccine nationalism. Having vaccines distributed equitably and affordably to countries everywhere This is a precondition for our economic recovery and collective international action is very much needed.

ii. If there is one lesson that COVID-19 has reinforced, it is that no one can be safe unless everyone is safe.

b. Second, more than ever, I hope that the G20 can send a strong signal of support for a rules-based multilateral trading system that has benefitted all of us for so long. 

i. Keeping markets open and supply chains intact is key for access to essential medical supplies; and 

ii. Crucial for minimising disruptions and enhancing economic recovery.

c. Third, I hope that Leaders of the G20 will signal their collective determination to rebuild the global economy in a way that is greener and more sustainable.

i. Investing in new sustainable infrastructure will be a powerful means of recovery and growth; and crowding-in the private sector through green finance will buttress these efforts.

ii. We will also need to reaffirm our efforts to tackle the longer-term challenge of climate change; and I look forward to the G20’s leadership to set the tone for a successful UN Climate Change Conference in 2021. 

9. Finally, let me once again congratulate the Saudi Presidency for its tremendous achievements during this very exceptional and challenging times.

10. Just as the G20 was able to steer the global economy out of the Global Financial Crisis more than a decade ago, I am confident that with Saudi Arabia’s leadership, the G20 will once again help us realise a strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive recovery. 

11. Thank you.