SINGAPORE: The 4G leadership will grow Singapore’s economy by being pro-business, pro-Singapore and pro-talent, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat said on Thursday (May 17) in Parliament.
Responding to the President’s address, he said that Singapore’s economy must grow so that its people can have good jobs and the opportunities to change the world.
“We must grow so that we have the resources to build our home, to take care of one another, and to protect ourselves. We must grow for our children, to give them a better future,” he said.
Elaborating on being pro-business, Mr Chee said that the Government will pro-actively seek feedback from businesses, cut red tape, and provide a safe space for experimentation.
The 4G leadership will pro-actively seek feedback from businesses to “make it part of our DNA and our instincts to be pro-enterprise”, to continuously improve rules and licensing framework and to speed up processes and facilitate new business ideas.
He gave an example of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and the Singapore Civil Defence Force working with the Singapore Manufacturing Federation to enhance regulations for cold stores, eventually saving companies several thousands of dollars per year.
CUTTING RED TAPE IN THE FOOD SECTOR
“We will cut red tape and simplify our licensing regime to reduce compliance costs for businesses,” he added. He said a deep dive is being done into the regulatory requirements for the food sector.
“Currently, companies can have up to 14 touch-points with different government agencies before they can set up a food shop. We asked ourselves, is it really necessary to have 14 touch-points? This is Singapore, we can do better,” he said.
The Pro-Enterprise Panel (PEP) is working with Smart Nation and Digital Government Office and GovTech on this review, he said, adding that an “ambitious target” has been set to streamline the 14 forms into one form, and to correspondingly reduce the time taken and licence fees which companies have to pay to start a food business.
“I don’t know if our pilot will succeed, but we will try,” he said.
He added that while the food industry is not the biggest sector in our economy, the Government started with it because the regulatory improvements can benefit many SMEs and workers.
The Government will also encourage experimentation via mechanisms such as regulatory sandboxes, which encourage stakeholders to experiment within a well-defined “safe” space.
He noted that there there is some risk when embarking on regulatory reviews and implement regulatory sandboxes, such as some of the pilots failing and some of the new rules not working well.
“But we have to try, as remaining status quo and playing it safe is simply not tenable when we have to compete with other cities in the world for ideas, investments and talent. In such an environment, the most dangerous strategy is to make no bold moves,” he said.
PRO-BUSINESS RULES CAN HAVE LASTING IMPACT ON SOCIETAL CULTURE
Being pro-business not only impacts the economy, but also social norms and compact, Mr Chee said.
“It is about supporting risk-taking and overcoming our fear of failure. In the process of trying something new, we learn and become more resilient and more resourceful,” he said.
Such changes can have a “significant and lasting impact on our societal culture and the kind of society we want Singapore to be”, he said, bringing up the example of three Singaporean undergraduates who were told to stop brewing and selling beer on their university hostel premises.
The three men, Mr Rahul Immandira, Mr Heetesh Alwani and Mr Abilash Subbaraman, had experimented with brewing their own brand of beer- Binjai Brew, and sold it to their friends, but were told to stop as they were breaking laws.
Mr Chee, who said he had tried the beer and that it was “very good”, said he and the PEP secretariat have offered their help to the men.
“We met the 3 young men over dinner and had a good discussion on how our current licensing regime could be reviewed to lower the barriers of entry for micro-brewers to test out new products during an initial trial period,” he said.
This would be before applying a more rigorous set of rules when they subsequently scale up their production and sales. The Ministry is looking into the suggestion and will discuss with the regulatory agencies, he said, acknowledging that while it is not guaranteed success, “we will give it a shot”.
BELIEVING IN SINGAPOREAN COMPANIES AND TALENT TO GROW ECONOMY
Mr Chee also spoke about the importance of believing in Singaporeans and local enterprises.
“The Government will give fair consideration to Singapore companies when we procure products and services to seek out creative and innovative ideas from our companies, to partner them in our government projects and to enable them to build a track record to compete overseas,” he said.
He pointed to the Health Promotion Board appointing Activate Interactive, a local SME, to develop the Healthy 365 mobile app and provide the steps trackers for the first season of National Steps Challenge. The company is now able to hold a place in the wearables market among well entrenched competitors and it is developing new innovative products and expanding into overseas markets, he said.
Still, to be pro Singapore-worker is not just about having safeguards, and “certainly not about building walls and closing our doors to new immigrants and global talent”, Mr Chee cautioned.
“With Singapore’s ageing population, such an approach will only hurt the country and our people. To be pro Singapore-worker, I believe the more effective way is to grow our economy and help our companies to do well, so that they can provide better jobs, better pay and better life for our workers,” he said.
To maximize the potential of our people, Singapore’s economy must have the capacity to generate good jobs and provide our people access to the best opportunities, the best networks and the best ideas.
“We cannot rely on MNCs alone to achieve this, but neither should we look inward and only focus on local SMEs,” he said.
With the international business landscape becoming more xenophobic and less welcoming to trade and foreign investments, Singapore must resist these forces of populism and protectionism, he said.
He said: “Let us have the courage to once again take a contrarian position by keeping Singapore open and connected with the world, and to boldly experiment with innovative ideas and transform our economy.”