Kwek Hian Chuan Henry
COS Cuts for MFA
Tapping on ASEAN’s Potential
1. Much has been said about ASEAN’s potential – youthful demographics, large population, and sizeable head-room for growth. But these can only be achieved it ASEAN member states work together to unlock the potential.
2. At the same time, given ASEAN’s dynamism, we are seeing rapid economic improvements in many bright spots within ASEAN, so Singapore can not take for granted our economic hub status within ASEAN.
3. As such, Singapore must always work hard to shape the economic architecture of ASEAN, so as to benefit ASEAN and Singapore. This is especially so, given our responsibility as ASEAN chair this year.
4. Can the government share on our efforts to unlock this potential to benefit Singapore and Singaporeans?
5. Besides positive economic conditions, Singaporeans companies and citizens must also ready to seize opportunities within ASEAN. What is the government doing more to ensure that we are prepared to capture the opportunities created?
For good reasons, we place great importance on engaging our regional neighbours. Our future is inextricably linked to the region. A peaceful and stable Southeast Asia is a necessary condition for Singapore’s security and prosperity. ASEAN is our largest trading partner with 630 million people and a combined GDP of US$2.55 trillion. In 2016, Singapore’s trade with ASEAN amounted to US$217.1 billion – more than a quarter of Singapore’s total trade. Last year, around a third or 6.2 million of our total visitor arrivals came from ASEAN. We see tremendous potential and opportunities in our region as ASEAN is expected to become the fourth largest economy in the world with a GDP of US$10 trillion by 2030. With 60% of ASEAN’s population under the age of 35, there are also demographic dividends to be reaped.
Therefore, we have pursued collaborative relations with our Southeast Asian neighbours, in particular the provinces and regions outside the capitals of our two closest neighbours.
Such interactions also provide opportunities for Singapore companies venturing into the region. For example, Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements with Laos and Cambodia came into force last year. We are also in the process of negotiating a Bilateral Investment Treaty with Myanmar, which will give better protection for our companies. IE Singapore recently signed an MOU with the Philippines Bases Conversion and Development Authority for Singapore to participate in the development of New Clark City.
Strengthening Relations with Europe
1. The geopolitical situation has gone through significant changes over the past few years. Europe, by and large, has remain a source of stability.
2. This creates a stable environment for us to further our longstanding and strong economic ties with Europe.
3. How are we strengthening our relations with our European partners and with the EU as a whole? Beyond economic cooperation, how can we deepen our cooperation with our European partners in other areas, such as connectivity?
4. Besides traditional areas of collaboration, are there new areas, such as technology and innovation, which we are exploring?
5. Also, given the rising importance of the Artic shipping route, Singapore has strategically placed itself as an observer within the Artic council. I note that there has been increasing interest in developments in the Arctic, and these are well-covered by the media. Major countries have also recently made major announcements regarding their Arctic plans.
6. How will Singapore respond to the opportunities and potential challenges for Europe, including the Arctic?
7. Lastly, in the various overseas work trip, I had witness the calibre and dedication of our ambassadors, non-resident ambassadors, and MFA officers. Their hard work has continued to advance the interest of our country, and I would like to offer my appreciation.
8. Thank you.
Mr Henry Kwek has requested for an update on our relations with Europe. Europe remains a longstanding partner for Singapore. While the impact of Brexit unfolds, Europe continues to be a key market and valuable partner in innovation, education and skills development. For example, we are partnering France to expand into industries of the future, such as FinTech, Smart Cities and Emerging Technologies.
The EU is our largest source of foreign direct investment. In a climate of increased protectionism, we support our European partners’ strong commitment to free trade. While we work towards ratifying the EU-Singapore FTA, we have also begun negotiating the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU)-Singapore FTA. I am also happy to report that the Singapore-Turkey FTA came into effect last year.
We continue to strengthen connectivity with Europe. Air traffic between Singapore and the EU has grown at an annual average of 3.8% in the past five years. We have launched direct flights to Stockholm and Athens, and will do so for Warsaw and Berlin. Region-to-region connectivity will also be enhanced when we conclude the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA). With increased connectivity, Singapore will stand to gain from increased investment, tourism, trade and employment.
Further afield, Singapore is an Observer in the Arctic Council. Melting ice caps and new Arctic sea routes present both challenges and opportunities for Singapore. Shipping traffic could be diverted in the long run but Singapore companies could leverage on the emerging sectors in the Arctic, such as shipbuilding and repair, port management and offshore engineering.