Economy: Look overseas, firms and workers told

Economy: Look overseas, firms and workers told

There will be abundant opportunities for Singaporeans and local firms but increasingly these will be found overseas and in markets which may not be familiar to them.

This was the message Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had for firms and workers as he sounded an optimistic note about Singapore's future economic prospects.

Responding to a question about Singapore's biggest economic challenge in the future, he said that Singapore's traditional markets such as Japan, the United States and Europe will face tough challenges fixing their economies.

These countries will remain key markets for local firms but if companies want to prosper, they will also have to pay more attention to emerging markets.

Emerging markets include big economies such as China and India as well as smaller economies in Latin America, Middle East and South-east Asia.

"Tremendous opportunity for us. And it means that not just our large companies but our small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have to be outward-oriented," he said.

In fact, a significant proportion of SMEs are already getting more than half their revenue from external markets, a marked improvement from a decade ago, he said.

Chasing these opportunities will mean that Singapore, firms and workers have to re-orientate themselves overseas, which will in turn mean adjustments for individuals and government policy.

"We've got to have that cultural flexibility of being able to work and operate in these environments because there are plenty of opportunities for Singaporeans," he said.

The Government will, on its part, make the education system more accessible for Singaporeans who have worked overseas, so that they can re-integrate their children back in Singapore when they return from their external stints.

"We probably need, in my opinion, a couple of more schools offering the International Baccalaureate and make it easier for them to fit back in, so the parents don't feel worried about what happens to the children when they come back," he said.

Apart from the international schools based here, local schools such as Anglo-Chinese School, Hwa Chong International and St Joseph's Institution offer the IB programme to their students.

Likewise, there will be strong support for firms looking to grab opportunities in the emerging markets, which will be an increasing source of prosperity of Singapore, he said.

"So if you take a broader view, I think there's more opportunity than challenge.

"And what we have to do is to upgrade our enterprises, train workers and move productivity, skills and expertise so that incomes can go up," said Mr Tharman.


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