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Singapore eyes digital connectivity to fuel post-COVID growth

City seeks high-tech partnerships with Japan, Australia, New Zealand

Singapore Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said digitalization and connectivity are key to economic growth in a keynote speech at Nikkei Forum Innovative Asia 2021 in the city-state. (Photo by Weixiang Lim)

SINGAPORE -- Singapore aims to build up digital connectivity with key trading partners, its minister for trade and industry said, as it strives to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and seek future growth.

Speaking at the Nikkei Forum Innovative Asia 2021 held offline and online on Tuesday, Chan Chun Sing said that the city-state "will work with like-minded partners like Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Chile to break new grounds for digital connectivity and data flows to enable the next lap of economic growth."

In December, Singapore and Australia launched a digital economy partnership which facilitates initiatives such as online consumer protection as well as cooperation in the regulation of artificial intelligence -- hoping to boost e-commerce and other digital transactions between the two nations. Singapore also signed a similar digital economy agreement with Chile and New Zealand last year.

"Digitalization and connectivity can fuel the next lap of global economic growth," Chan said, adding that governments and businesses need to help people make the necessary adjustments for the new era. "We must turn a potential digital divide into a digital multiplier."

The Singapore economy shrank 5.4% in 2020 -- its worst performance since the country gained independence in 1965 -- due to the pandemic that halted business activities and travel. The country now expects 4% to 6% growth this year and attracting new investments would be key to this expansion.

Along with digital connectivity, Singapore is also counting on huge neighboring markets in Southeast Asia for growth, according to the minister. "The youthful demographics and talent of Southeast Asia will provide investors with access to both markets and talents," Chan said. "Singapore can be that platform for global companies to leverage on the talent and markets for Southeast Asia."

Chan noted that the region's rapidly growing middle-class "portends significant economic opportunities not only in terms of consumer goods and services, but also infrastructure and essential services like health and education."

Singapore's attractiveness as a regional hub will indeed draw investors to the region, an idea shared by some multinational businesses at Tuesday's Nikkei forum. During a panel discussion that followed the minister's address, Chua Chee Seong, president and managing director of Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific, said cultural inclusiveness, a vibrant ecosystem, and global connectivity are some key strengths of Singapore, where his company has based its regional headquarters and distribution center.

"Besides being well connected by air [and] by sea, Singapore is now very much connected digitally, and also [has] the free trade agreements," he said. "It's important because they give you the advantage to deal with business."

From second left, Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) Executive Vice President Lim Kok Kiang, AMA Procter & Gamble Senior Vice President Kainaz Gazder, and Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific President and Managing Director Chua Chee Seong attend a panel discussion about "Growing from Singapore during the pandemic" on March 16 in Singapore. (Photo by Weixiang Lim)

The German semiconductor maker, which has had a presence in the city-state for 50 years, recently announced an investment in an AI facility in Singapore. "The only way we could continue to operate in Singapore is to innovate," he said, adding that the company intends to "upskill every employee so that they are ready to make use of AI in day-to-day work."

Meanwhile, Kainaz Gazder, senior vice president for baby care products at Procter & Gamble Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, said Singapore was "an incredibly strategic location with the right infrastructure, the right business environment, a great ecosystem for innovation and digital growth, as well as talent."

The consumer products giant last year launched in Singapore a digital capability development program aimed at innovating and enhancing its capability for digital sales, digital marketing as well as digital transformation across its operations. "We continue to invest more in this space," she said.

Commenting on the recent investment trend in Singapore, Lim Kok Kiang, executive vice president at Singapore's Economic Development Board, a government agency tasked with attracting investments from the world, said he sees "new growth opportunities" in the area of mobility as well as agri-tech such as plant-based food.

"I think companies continue to be quite optimistic about the mid- and long-term growth in Southeast Asia and Asia," Lim said. "That has continued to be a bright spot despite the challenges that we're facing."

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