singapores new minister of trade and industry promises competitive and vibrant economy 1453502015

Business circles have welcomed the induction of Mr S Iswaran in the new cabinet

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By :  ,  Financial Analyst

Mr S Iswaran, Singapore’s new Minister of Trade and Industry, has promised to assign a high priority on ensuring that the economy maintains its competitive edge and thereby creates job opportunities for the people and business growth for companies.

Speaking during an interview with Channel NewsAsia on Wednesday (September 30), Mr Iswaran said: “Our primary focus is ensuring our economy stays competitive and vibrant, thereby creating opportunities for our businesses and jobs for Singaporeans.”

“Our focus is really looking ahead in terms of the economy – our challenges, some of the initiatives we're already doing and what we need to continue with, and also if there are any new areas we need to focus on,” he added.

Mr Iswaran certainly has his plate full. Non-oil domestic exports (NODX) from Singapore fell 8.4 per cent year-on-year in August 2015, following a contraction in both electronic and non-electronic exports, according to data released by International Enterprise (IE) Singapore in September. Analysts attributed the decline to a slowdown in demand from traditional trade partners Korea, Taiwan and mainly, China. Singapore’s economy is heavily reliant on its external trade and unsurprisingly, the NODX numbers raised apprehensions of it slipping into a technical recession.

But Mr Iswaran might be aided in his efforts to keep exports competitive by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which will hold a monetary policy meeting this month – an increasingly larger number of analysts see the scope for some easing by MAS to support the economy and its external trade. It may be noted, however, that the Singapore dollar is already down to six year lows, and that, in itself, is quite a leg up for the country’s exports.

“One main thrust that will continue is the drive for productivity and innovation,” Mr Iswaran said in the interview. “Our focus must be on ensuring our companies and businesses and sectors are able to ride through these cycles and sustain their competitiveness, so that even if there were any gyrations in the economy, they can go through that and emerge stronger, more competitive and ready to seize new opportunities.”

Under the new Cabinet line-up announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on September 28, Mr Lim Hng Kiang (currently Minister for Trade and Industry) will focus on trade, while Mr S Iswaran will oversee industry issues on equal footing as Mr Lim.

This arrangement was generally welcomed by business circles, considering Singapore is facing a challenging period of growth amidst a slowing economic climate. “At the end of the day, industry and trade must come together because whether you export or whether you internationalize, the linkages must still be there,” said Mr Liang Eng Hwa, who was chairman of the 12th Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry.

“My new role is really a continuation of what we've been doing in many ways,” said Mr Iswaran. “Within the ministry, Minister (Lim Hng Kiang) and I work seamlessly. That would continue to be the way we operate.”

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