Tharman: Singapore must remain open to investments

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that Singapore’s future rests on its role as a hub in sectors such as manufacturing, finance and logistics. Stressing that staying open is vital to maximizing opportunities for Singaporeans.

Minister Tharman also warned that the Covid-19 pandemic may lead to a “wipeout” of a significant number of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as many of these companies have been battered by the crisis.

Minister Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, was speaking during a dialogue at the Singapore Summit, an annual forum bringing together leaders from around the world to discuss global trends in business, finance and geopolitics.

The dialogue was hosted by Mr Ho Kwon Ping, executive chairman of resort group Banyan Tree Holdings. It touched on topics such as the impact of Covid-19 on existing global trends, the tensions between the United States and China, and the future of Singapore’s status as an economic hub.

Elaborating on the need for Singapore to stay open, Minister Tharman said that the country cannot rely on its domestic economy for growth.

“If we are a middling business center or if we think we can get growth out of a domestic economy, not only will we not be able to grow opportunities, but most Singaporeans will leave the place… So it’s clearly not an option.”

To remain successful and competitive as an economic hub, Singapore should not just remain open to trade and investments, but it must also continue to be open to flows of people.

This requires continuous work, he said, and involves trust between the Government and the people, as well as having reliable systems and strong national education systems to ensure that these objectives can be achieved.

Minister Tharman: it wouldn’t be socially sustainable

However, Senior Minister Tharman said that it would not be “socially or politically sustainable” for a country to be “blindly open” to foreigners.

The key is for the Government to manage the flows of people and ensure that opportunities are created for all through this openness, he added.

He then laid out the ways that the Government should achieve this. Firstly, there must be opportunities for Singaporeans to develop at every skill level.

This includes ensuring that Singaporeans are able to adapt and develop adjacent skills in order to switch to new sectors.

The country must also strive to encourage firms to anchor their regional and global business here and attract the best international teams with both foreigners and Singaporeans.

The Government should ensure fair hiring and promotion practices — something that it has taken even more seriously because of the present economic downturn, he said.

Lastly, firms should also be mindful of the need for “adequate diversity of nationalities, even among the foreigners who are with us”, he said.

“Avoid significant concentrations of one nationality, and that, too, is something that we are talking to firms about.”

The overall number of foreigners relative to residents here would also need to be controlled, Minister Tharman said. “If you want to preserve openness to the top-tier talent and entrepreneurs, you have to control the overall numbers and make sure that the broad middle in our society and those in the lower-income level have opportunities and face fair competition.”

TraceTogether app will be upgraded for tourists

TraceTogether Tokens to be distribute by the MOH

TraceTogether tokens will be distributed in the citystate from Sept 14 onwards the Ministry of Health said in a statement on Wednesday September 9. 

The distribution of these tokens, which will star with Jalan Besar and Tanjong Pagar, due to the higher concentration of senior citizens in these estates, is expected to be completed by November.

These tokens exchange Bluetooth signals with other tokens nearby or with mobile phones that are running the TraceTogether mobile application.

A new self-check service will be introduced today. The service will alert people if they have visited the same venues at the same time as Covid-19 cases, based on their SafeEntry records, said MOH.

About the TraceTogether Tokens

To learn when and where they can get their TraceTogether tokens, which will be distributed free to everyone, Residents can go to the website.

“We encourage every resident in Singapore to either download the TraceTogether app onto their mobile phone, or to collect a TraceTogether token. A higher adoption rate makes the TraceTogether programme and contact tracing efforts more efficient and effective,” MOH said.

Other announcements

The Government also announced that it will be piloting SafeEntry check-ins through the TraceTogether tokens or the app at selected venues, to facilitate the easing of Covid-19 safety measures at these places.

The authorities will increase the number of venues where SafeEntry check-ins are done through the TraceTogether tokens or app, Once the national distribution of the tokens is underway.

Currently, individuals check in to venues via SafeEntry by using their mobile phone to scan a QR code or getting their identification cards scanned. Supplementing SafeEntry with proximity data from TraceTogether will enhance safety for participants, MOH said.

“This will ensure better confidence in mitigating the risk of formation of large clusters, and could allow for a safer increase in capacity limits at these events and premises with any potential future easing of measures.”

Checking in with SafeEntry via TraceTogether was first tested at a business conference event held here at the end of August, MOH said. 

During a virtual press conference on Wednesday held by the Ministry of Health, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who is the Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, said that Singapore is now in a phase of opening up for conferences and other business events.

“For these kinds of events with more people interacting, it’s not enough to know who’s been in this building in the last hour. You want to know of that group of people who happen to be in that building (and had been) in close proximity to each other. In order to have that level of granularity, you do need proximity data,” he said. 

Bangkok, Thailand - February 18, 2020: Air travelers wearing masks walk through departures hall of Suvarnabhumi Airport. Thailand has been assessed as a country at risk of Covid-19 outside of China.

14 visitors have entered Singapore in September

The first 14 visitors from Brunei and New Zealand, travelling under Singapore’s partially eased border restrictions that apply to visitors from those countries, arrived here on Tuesday (Sept 8).

In an answer to media questions, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said that five of the visitors had arrived from Brunei while the remaining nine were from New Zealand.

A total of 136 Air Travel Passes have been issued so far under the eased border arrangements, with 59 for travelers from Brunei and 77 for those coming from New Zealand.

CAAS said that travelers from the two countries may enter Singapore via the Air Travel Pass scheme because the coronavirus situation in both countries is “well under control and the risk of importation is low”.

CAAS said that visitors may apply for the single-entry Air Travel Pass between seven and 30 calendar days before their arrival in Singapore.

Visitors and students’ measures announcement

Last month, Singapore’s government announced that border measures will be eased and from past September 1 has been allowed to travel to Brunei and New Zealand.

These trips were for general purposes including leisure, as well as for students to travel overseas for studies.

At the same time, travellers entering Singapore and who have remained in either Brunei or New Zealand in the two weeks before their entry will not be required to serve a stay-home notice.

These short-term visitors must comply with the conditions of the pass. These include undergoing a Covid-19 test upon arrival at the airport instead of serving a stay-home notice, as well as downloading the TraceTogether moibile application for their entire period of stay.

These visitors, however, will be responsible for their own medical bills if they require treatment for Covid-19 while in Singapore, the Ministry of Health said last month.

Chinese cargo containers in the port

China’s exports growth in August

China’s exports growth accelerated in August while imports edged lower as the world’s second-largest economy extended its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

China’s exports rose 9.5% over a year earlier to $235.2 billion, up from July’s 7.2% growth, data from the General Administration of Customs showed Monday. Imports declined 2.1% to $176.3 billion, compared with the previous month’s 1.4% contraction.

China’s exporters have benefited from its relatively early reopening from a shutdown to fight the virus while competitors in many other countries still face anti-disease controls that disrupt business.

Exports to the United States rose 20% to $44.8 billion despite tariff hikes imposed by the Trump administration in a fight with Beijing over its technology ambitions and trade surplus. Imports of American goods gained 2% to $10.5 billion.

The changes were due mostly to lower prices and comparison with last August’s relative weak exports, according to Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics. Evans-Pritchard estimated the volume of goods exported rose 9.7% from a year earlier while import volumes rose 9.5%.

Other exporters have benefited from increased Chinese demand for their goods after growth in the world’s second-largest economy rebounded to 3.2% over a year earlier in the three months ending in June. Activity the previous quarter fell 6.8%, the deepest slump since at least the mid-1960s.

China’s exports and import details

China’s exports to the 27-nation European Union, China’s biggest foreign market, fell 20.1% from a year earlier to $35.7 billion. Imports of European goods tumbled 29.7% to $22.5 billion.

China’s global trade surplus swelled by 72% over a year earlier to $58.9 billion. That was down from July’s $62.3 billion gap.

Chinese importers have benefited from a slump in global prices for oil and many other goods due to weak demand caused by virus-related shutdowns.

Fast-growing exports included integrated circuits, smartphones, auto-data processors and household appliances.

That suggests “China still has some trade partners that are willing to import Chinese technology” despite tension with Washington, Iris Pang of ING said in a report.

Still, Pang warned Chinese exporters of higher-tech goods might face trouble as Washington tightens curbs on access to U.S. components in a feud with Beijing over technology and security.

 “This could affect exports of technological products and services in the coming months,” said Pang.

singapore retail sales fell

Retail sales in Singapore fell 8.5 percent in July

Retail sales were on the rocky road to recovery in July, the first full month with shops reopened, after the second-quarter’s “circuit-breaker” shutdown.

This is an improvement from the 27.7 per cent plunge in June, said the Department of Statistics (SingStat) on Friday

Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales fell 7.7 per cent year-on-year, figures released by SingStat showed.

Compared to June, seasonally adjusted retail sales saw a 27.4 per cent increase month-on-month in July – this was attributed to a lower base in the previous month, when most physical stores were closed until Jun 18, before Phase 2 of Singapore’s reopening began.

The estimated total retail sales value in July was about S$3.3 billion, with online retail sales making up an estimated 11.0 per cent.

Retail sales in the F&B Sector

Sales of F&B services fell 25.4 per cent year-on-year, compared to the 43.6 per cent decline in the previous month, said SingStat.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, sales of F&B services grew 29.2 per cent in July over the previous month.

The growth was mainly attributed to the lower base in June, when food & beverage establishments operated on a takeaway or delivery basis until Jun 18.

The turnover of restaurants and food caterers declined 29.9 per cent and 45.2 per cent respectively in July this year compared to July 2019.

“Similarly, cafes, food courts and other eating places and fast food outlets recorded lower sales of 19.6 per cent and 11.5 per cent respectively during this period,” SingStat added.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, turnover of restaurants, cafes, food courts and other eating places as well as fast food outlets grew by between 7.2 per cent and 61.0 per cent compared to the previous month, with more people dining in at food and beverage establishments in Phase 2.

We can say that these sectors are still affected by low tourism in the city-state.

Asian traveler business man with luggage, bag wearing face mask looking overhead storage bin on airplane in airport. Male passenger traveling by plane transportation during covid19 virus pandemic.

A fast lane to start between Singapore and South Korea

A fast-lane will start between Singapore and South Korea from September 4. The arrangements, which will allow for essential business and official travel between the two countries, have concluded.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said on Wednesday that the arrangement will help restore connectivity and support economic recovery. It added that the necessary public health safeguards will be in place.

Eligible travelers will have to abide by the mutually agreed terms and prevailing public health measures in both countries.

These conditions include pre-departure and post-arrival testing, as well as the need to adhere to a controlled itinerary for the first 14 days after their arrival.

More details about the the arrangements and application process will be published on the SafeTravel website by Friday.

MFA said that Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and his South Korean counterpart, Ms Kang Kyung-wha, spoke on the phone on Wednesday, with both welcoming the conclusion of the fast-lane talks.

It said the ministers also reaffirmed the importance of bilateral cooperation to jointly overcome both countries’ common challenges amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The second fast lane

The city-state also has an agreement for such travel with China and Malaysia and a previous fast lane they announced las month,

Since September 1, Singapore relaxed its measures and has allowed general travel to Brunei and New Zealand, including students studying abroad.

While meeting to discuss issues in the workplace, a young female professional shakes the male human resources representative's hand and smiles. The conversation is taking place in an office and the female employee sits on a comfortable sofa.

Hiring practices will be review by the MOM

Hiring practices of companies will be review by the Ministry of Manpower , as well as those whose Employment Pass and S Pass workforce are “overly concentrated” from a single foreign nationality source, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

The hiring practices review comes amid a heightened sense of insecurity about jobs, in an economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Announcing the review of hiring practices in Parliament on Tuesday Sep 1, Mrs Teo said MOM will work with other agencies to actively intervene and help such companies reshape their workforce profiles.

The ministry will also engage the human resources community to “do more”, she added.

Mrs Teo was responding to several Members of Parliament, who had posed the issue of job competition between Singaporeans and work pass holders.

She pointed out that work pass policies have been regularly adjusted, slowing down the growth of Employment Pass and S Pass holders.

With COVID-19, the number of Employment Pass and S Pass holders have also come down sharply, she said, adding that this group of workers dropped by 22,000 between January and July this year.

Highest rate level of unemployment in a decade

Singapore’s overall unemployment rate has risen to its highest level in more than a decade, with retrenchments more than doubling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the second quarter, retrenchments more than doubled to 6,700, from 3,220 in the previous quarter.

Mrs Teo said that MOM actively monitors retrenchment exercises, and that the vast majority have so far been conducted fairly and responsibly.

“By and large, there has also not been a weakening of the Singaporean core,” she said.

Nevertheless, these “reassuring observations”, said Mrs Teo, MOM will work with businesses and unions to “advance sound practices” – such as by updating the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment, or through the Fair Retrenchment Framework proposed by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

Authorities seek to expand job opportunities for Singaporeans

Singaporean authorities seek to expand job opportunities for Singaporeans through the Manpower Plan.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore supports the Manpower Plan promoted by the Ministry of Manpower that seeks to establish more job opportunities for Singaporeans.

This initiative establishes a salary increase qualifying for pass holders’ entry-level employment in the financial services sector.

The two organizations worked together to determine the new minimum wage for the financial services sector, which now ranks higher than the rest of the economy.

This initiative is developed with the aim of providing more support to the recruitment of Singaporeans in the financial services sector.

Job creation is maintained

Despite the current crisis, the sector has continued to create jobs, with a net increase of less than 1,500 jobs in the first half of the year.

Of this figure 4 out of 5 jobs for Singapore citizens.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore stated that, although job creation will be slower in the second half of the year, it could be frozen for the next.

This salary increase will allow financial institutions to complement their workforce, said Jacqueline Loh, Deputy Director of Markets and Development at MAS.

“The move toward higher salary criteria for PE candidates complements MAS’s workforce development programs to expand job opportunities and deepen local capabilities, Loh said.

In the same way, he pointed out that a high-quality workforce, with a solid core with specialized skills, will allow the Singaporean financial services system to compete internationally.

He stressed that it is necessary to take advantage of new growth opportunities as economies and global ones recover from the crisis generated by the pandemic.

WTO: Restrictions on cross-border mobility affect world trade

The World Trade Organization (WTO) published a recent report that reveals how trade in goods and services has been affected by cross-border restrictions in the wake of the pandemic.

In the report, the WTO secretariat describes how the mobility of people plays an important role in the provision and consumption of cross-border services, as well as in manufacturing value chains.

The document points out the broad travel barriers introduced in the early stage of the pandemic.

It highlights that mobility barriers have not only impacted on tourism services, but have also had a direct impact on trade chains.

This, due to its effect on transport services, information and transaction costs.

In the same way, the WTO report indicates that international cooperation plays a fundamental role in minimizing the economic impact generated by mobility restrictions.

Key points from the WTO report

The closure of borders, the reimposition of border controls and other travel bans, prevent landings and changes of maritime crews.

It points out that the measures cause disruptions in shipments, affect aircraft operations and generate congestion and delays in transportation.

It also highlights that for some countries the difficulties in importing items of different supplies, including food, have increased exponentially.

The report also shows that with the limited exception of workers in sectors qualified as essential, this exchange is stopped.

According to the WTO report, the exchange of information can help the member countries to foster greater resilience in the face of future crises.

Such an exercise could allow the identification of options to implement travel measures that meet the objectives of protecting public health while minimizing negative effects on trade.

Singapore Minister to Kick Off Gastech Virtual Summit 2020

The Minister of Trade and Industry of Singapore will be responsible for opening the Gastech Virtual Summit 2020, a global convening event that will address the new challenges of the gas industry and the energy sector.

Singapore Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing confirmed that he will open the Gastech Virtual Summit 2020.

The global event for the Gas, LNG and energy industry is scheduled to take place between September 7 and 11.

This activity will address the importance of the energy transition and the necessary collaboration between governments and industry.

The Gastech Virtual Summit Strategic Conference comprises ministerial and global sessions of business leaders.

Gastech Virtual Summit will address industry challenges

The Gastech will offer advanced information on the latest business strategies and industry-leading trends.

They will also discuss issues such as, what affects the future of the industry, the prospects for recovery in demand and investment, as well as changes in supply in the Post-Covid-19 world.

They will also present recent research on new technologies and business strategies to help companies thrive in tough times.

The summit will feature the participation of more than 200 industry leaders who will share strategies to face the new changes in this field.

¨Gastech has the power to convene industry thought leaders, to address energy transition strategies as we move towards goals, this year the Gastech Virtual Summit will address the collective challenges and opportunities facing the industry¨, said Nick Ornstien, vice president of energy for DMG Events.

Attendees will have access to exclusive information from ministers, political and business leaders, disruptors and innovators.