SINGAPORE - Singapore's economy grew by 3.7 per cent in 2013, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday, as he stressed the need for a balanced approach on foreign workers, whose presence has underpinned growth but riles some citizens.
"Our economy has done well. It grew by 3.7 per cent in 2013 - better than initially expected," Lee said in his New Year message.
The 3.7 per cent growth for 2013 cited by Lee is in line with the official forecast of 3.5 per cent to 4.0 per cent growth announced in November. In 2012, Singapore's economy grew by 1.3 per cent.
Singapore's manufacturing sector has lagged the rest of the region in the last few years, as its economy becomes increasingly reliant on areas such as trade and financial services as well as tourism and property development.
The government will release advance estimates for the fourth quarter on Jan. 2.
Singapore attracts international companies with its reliable legal system, skilled, English-speaking workforce and high living standards. Its low tax rates and generous tax incentive programmes are one of the biggest draws and have been a key driver behind the island's economic success.
Singapore's economy also benefits from low-paid foreign workers, many from South Asia.
But a riot on Dec. 8 by Indian workers angry about a traffic accident forced Singapore to confront a stubborn, vexing question: how to treat low-paid foreign workers who underpin the economy but whose presence increasingly galls its citizens.
"Whether we bring in more immigrants and foreign workers or fewer, whether we aim for higher growth or lower, there are no easy choices for Singapore," Lee said. "We are taking a balanced approach, reducing but not cutting off the inflow of foreign workers."
He said Singapore would continue to treat foreign workers fairly but it expected them to obey the law and social norms. "The riot in Little India was inexcusable. We have taken firm action against the culprits," Lee said, referring to the melee in the city's Little India neighbourhood.
It was Singapore's first major riot in four decades. "The riot reminds us that we can never take good order, peace and stability for granted," Lee said.