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Amid work pass review, Singapore must not close off from world to succeed post-COVID-19: DPM Heng

Amid work pass review, Singapore must not close off from world to succeed post-COVID-19: DPM Heng

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking at the virtual FutureChina Global Forum on Sep 15, 2020. (Photo: Facebook/Heng Swee Keat)

SINGAPORE: Singapore must remain open to the world even as it reviews its work pass policies, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Tuesday (Sep 15).

This is part of how China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can make globalisation work for all, which Mr Heng said is one way to help Asia thrive in a post-COVID-19 world.

Mr Heng was giving a keynote speech at the FutureChina Global Forum, themed A Resilient Future: Post-Pandemic Transformation & Opportunities in China and ASEAN.

COVID-19 has inflicted a severe supply and demand shock to economies in China and Southeast Asia, Mr Heng said, noting that businesses and workers are facing a challenging time.

Nevertheless, Mr Heng said Asia is well-positioned to contribute to global economic growth, and detailed how China and ASEAN can work together to make Asia a "vibrant region" for businesses, jobs and good standards of living.

READ: Singapore remains open to global talent; aim is to benefit, not substitute Singaporeans: Chan Chun Sing

Mr Heng said countries must remain open and connected to the world, and make adjustments so that globalisation works for all, while Singapore must strengthen its connectivity with the region.

In an era of "tremendous change", businesses must also create partnerships to emerge stronger from the crisis, he added.


In an uncertain economic environment, Mr Heng acknowledged that workers are anxious about their jobs and the benefits of economic openness.

However, he urged countries to restructure their economies and upskill their workers to ensure globalisation remains beneficial to all, adding that an open and connected global economy allows countries to develop and prosper.

Mr Heng pointed out that global trading rules set up after the Second World War have led to world exports increasing by more than 300 times prior to COVID-19, with countries in the region "benefitting immensely".

READ: Job competition from work pass holders could become a 'divisive issue', will be addressed, says President Halimah

"In Singapore, we are adjusting our policies to ensure that they continue to serve the interests of our people," he said.

"We are reviewing our work pass policies, strengthening fair consideration, enhancing efforts to upskill our workers and strengthening our social safety nets for those affected by economic disruption.

"But we must not undermine what has made us successful, by closing ourselves off from the world."

READ: Minimum qualifying salary to rise by S$600 for Employment Passes and S$100 for S Passes, higher requirement for financial services

The Ministry of Manpower announced last month that it will raise the minimum qualifying salary for new Employment Pass and S Pass applicants to continue to encourage fair hiring, particularly in the current economic climate.

Southeast Asia will also be an increasingly important part of China’s reliance on the international market for goods and services, Mr Heng said, noting that the 10 Southeast Asian economies have become China’s top trading partner for the first time this year.

READ: Adjustments to Employment Pass and S Pass criteria 'timely' to help businesses retain local employment: Josephine Teo

"With the restructuring of global supply chains, post-COVID-19, Southeast Asia can be an attractive choice for companies considering a ‘China Plus One’ strategy," he said.

"Besides manufacturing, the digital economy and infrastructure development also offer ample opportunities in Southeast Asia."


Amid the pandemic, Mr Heng said Singapore must strengthen connectivity with the region and the world to facilitate the movement of goods, data and people.

On the movement of goods, Mr Heng said Singapore must work closely with like-minded partners to keep its trade lines and supply chains open, adding that ASEAN and China are committed to mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on trade and investment. 

"With China, we are pressing ahead with the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor of the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative," he said.

"We saw a 20 per cent increase in trade volume in the first half of this year, despite COVID-19, through this corridor."

READ: Business and official travellers on Singapore-China 'fast lane' arrangement must get COVID-19 swab tests

On the movement of people, Mr Heng said Singapore is re-opening its borders gradually and carefully, with its first Fast Lane launched with China in June for essential business and official travel.

Singapore has since agreed on similar arrangements with Malaysia, Brunei, South Korea and Japan, and relaxed border controls for visitors from Brunei and New Zealand for general travel.

READ: Safe Travel Office set up under ICA for 'easier and smoother' traveller experience as borders gradually reopen

"We are also in discussion with other parties to expand travel arrangements," Mr Heng said. "Singapore will also continue to promote regional cooperation and deepen our bilateral relationships."


As for keeping businesses connected, Mr Heng said is is tough for businesses to deal with the rapid changes alone, adding that partnerships are needed to "deal with the turbulence ahead and seize new opportunities".

Mr Heng said Singapore has established industry-led alliances to prototype new solutions quickly in areas like smart commerce and sustainability, and is stepping up sector transformation through its Industry Transformation Maps.

Trade associations and chambers also have an important role to play, Mr Heng said, pointing to how Business China develops business leaders and builds bridges with partners.

READ: Emerging Stronger Taskforce will identify global risks, seize economic opportunities for Singapore: Desmond Lee

In addition, Mr Heng said cross-border collaborations can help business grow, pointing to the ASEAN Online Sale Day, Southeast Asia’s first online shopping event on a region-wide scale, as one example launched in August.

"Another example is the China-Singapore Infrastructure Co-Investment Platform by Surbana Jurong and China’s Silk Road Fund, which brings together networks and capabilities for infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia," he said.

Mr Heng said businesses should continue working with a wide range of stakeholders, including workers, to create better jobs and opportunities for upskilling. He also said they should work with local communities to ensure that their business activities benefit the wider society.

"In this way, we make economic growth inclusive and sustainable," he said. 

Source: CNA/hz(hs)


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