Singapore must resist protectionism, even when competing for jobs: Chan Chun Sing

Esther Au Yong
Editor-in-Chief, News and Finance
Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing (Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI))

SINGAPORE – Resisting protectionism is key to surviving in the post-COVID-19 world, including when competing for jobs, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Sunday (14 June).

“I know many Singaporeans are concerned with foreign competition, but closing ourselves up is not the answer. We cannot escape competing with the world, and proving our mettle,” Chan said in his address on national TV.

Singapore’s openness is an important strength, Chan pointed out, as he elaborated on his theme “Making a living in a COVID-19 world”.

“Over the years, many investors have chosen to site and expand their businesses here, in Singapore. They did not make this decision for the short-term, nor did they choose Singapore because we have abundant natural resources, or because we are cheaper. They chose us because of our strengths, which are not easy to replicate elsewhere. We are open, and connected with the world, we are trusted, we are united and stable as a society, and we have a skilled workforce,” he said.

While many countries worldwide retreated from globalisation and erected more protectionist barriers – accelerated by COVID-19 – Chan said, “We must resist these pressures. A less connected world means a poorer world and fewer opportunities for all. A less connected Singapore means fewer and poorer quality jobs for us.”

Singapore’s resilience comes from building networks, he said, and in diversifying its supply sources and markets. “We will never be able to have everything we would possibly need, for the next crisis. Indeed, when lockdowns started across the world three months ago, many of our supply chains were disrupted, if not broken. Credit goes to the ingenuity and tenacity of our people for keeping us going. Our public and private sectors swung into action, reached out to their networks, opened new supply lines to bring back essentials like masks, PPE and test reagents from across the world.”

Singapore’s brand: Trust

“Another intangible strength is trust. Singapore is trusted globally,” Chan said. “Throughout this crisis, we have also continued to show the world they can trust Singapore. We did not impose export restrictions or nationalise foreign investments. We kept our production lines open for global supply chains, including critical materials for surgical masks. We worked with companies to increase their production, so that we could meet Singapore’s and the world’s needs, and we facilitated the continued flow of essential goods and people through our ports and airports.”

All these resulted in Singapore’s investors standing by it.

By staying connected with the world, even as the world threatens to fragment and close off, “we can show the way, if we have good ideas”.

These strengths, coupled with the government’s commitment to create jobs – 100,000 jobs and training opportunities in the coming year, “three times our usual annual number” – and re-skill and up-skill workers, as well as continued infrastructure development, will ensure Singapore not only grows, but thrives, Chan said.

“Our promise is this: We will create opportunities for all Singaporeans, no matter how old you are, to improve your lives at every stage of your careers. So long as you are able and willing, we will support you. Every Singaporean, regardless of background, can have the chance to take on the new jobs being created.”

Listen to the full speech below:

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, and Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean had delivered their speeches in the series over the past week.

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat are scheduled to address the nation on Wednesday and Saturday respectively.


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