SINGAPORE: Trade friction escalating to a trade war will ultimately be disruptive to the global economy, warned Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Thursday (May 3).
In the long run, this will undermine the multilateral trading framework put together by countries over many years, he said.
Mr Heng was speaking at the ASEAN Conference 2018, where he touched on opportunities and challenges faced by regional economies.
Without commenting specifically on ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China, the Finance Minister noted that trade issues are "extremely complex".
The opening up of economies and reform go hand-in-hand, and the practical thing to do is to help those negatively affected make adjustments so they are not left behind, he said.
“If you look at the reactions in many parts of the world where people are against free trade, it is that the losers felt very aggrieved that the system has not served them well. And this is something which all countries, including Singapore, must be very conscious of, that we have to ensure that our people can benefit from this free trade,” said Mr Heng.
The minister said trade restrictions are ultimately self-defeating, and he hoped "good sense will prevail".
On Singapore’s part, he said the country is putting in an effort to grow as a hub for technology and enterprise.
“In my new role as the chairman of the National Research Foundation, I will be looking at this issue closely and look forward to any suggestions that you have, how we can grow our technology capability and to partner businesses in deploying technology for innovation, deploy technology to scale businesses,” said Mr Heng.
At the conference, the Finance Minister also handed out the Go Southeast Asia Awards to more than 20 Singaporean undergraduates.
The awards are an initiative that allows students to take up overseas internships at local companies like United Overseas Bank, law firm Rajah and Tann and furniture maker Koda.