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Small countries must strive to remain competitive: Tony Tan

Small countries like Portugal, Switzerland and Singapore must strive to remain globally competitive. President Tony Tan Keng Yam said this as he wrapped up his week-long visit of Portugal and Switzerland on Saturday.

SINGAPORE: Small countries like Portugal, Switzerland and Singapore must strive to remain globally competitive. President Tony Tan Keng Yam said this as he wrapped up his week-long visit of Portugal and Switzerland on Saturday.

He said Singapore must improve its productivity, much like the Swiss and Portuguese have done.

The lack of natural resources is a common denominator for Singapore, Portugal and Switzerland. Thus, the countries have adopted the same philosophy -- be globally open economies.

On his last day in Switzerland, President Tan emphasised the importance of small nations to maintain contact and share experiences with each other.

During his two-day State Visit to Portugal, he noted the progress made on the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. He said a quick ratification of the agreement will be a clear signal of Portugal's commitment to step up its engagement in Southeast Asia.

During his meetings with Portuguese President Cavaco Silva and Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, President Tan discussed ways to enhance economic cooperation.

He said both sides agreed that there was great potential for Singaporean companies to work with Portugal as a gateway not just to Europe, but also to Brazil and Africa.
Similarly, Portuguese companies could use Singapore as a gateway to ASEAN and Asia.

Noting how the Portuguese economy returned to growth following three years of economic challenges, President Tan said one lesson for Singapore is the importance of maintaining fiscal sustainability.

He said: "If there is one lesson in which we can learn from Portugal during this period is the importance of maintaining our fiscal sustainability, make sure we don't overspend, we don't over subsidise and always subject ourselves to the discipline of the market because the market is unforgiving.

"They introduced measures which they know are politically unpopular, but they know which is good for the country and good for the people in the long run. And I think that is very commendable of the government to take this view, which is the same as our philosophy in Singapore -- always look at the long-term interest of the nation, be prepared to take short-term measures which may be painful."

President Tan said he is confident relations between Singapore and Portugal will continue to strengthen.

As for Switzerland, he said Singapore has always bench-marked itself against the country for its development, and that bilateral relations are strong in many sectors -- including trade, investment, education and research.

But while Switzerland's economy is doing well, it faces challenges in handling its immigration -- an issue that is affecting many countries, including Singapore.

President Tan said: "We have to find our own way, our own circumstances are quite different, but this is the reality of life. This world of movable labour, flexibility, each country wanting its own companies to be more competitive. There's no easy solution.

"I know the government is working very hard towards the right balance, but we have to take steps which do not erode our competitiveness, doesn't erode our openness, our attraction as an investment destination, and the ability of companies who want to expand their businesses."

In order to make themselves relevant to the world, President Tan said small countries like Portugal, Switzerland and Singapore have to build up its workforce capabilities, continue to emphasise research and development and upgrade their education.

Overall, he said these countries must continuously improve their productivity to maintain economic growth, as there is no other way out.

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