'Spirit of cooperation key for nations'

'Spirit of cooperation key for nations'

SINGAPORE - A spirit of cooperation between nations needs to be encouraged if sustainable growth is to be achieved, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

He told about 400 attendees at a dinner at Gardens by the Bay that countries can work together to lift overall prosperity instead of treating competition as a zero- sum game.

He encouraged states to foster a "growth mentality" - one of expanding the economic pie together - instead of a "scarcity mentality" of fighting tooth and nail over seemingly scarce resources.

Mr Heng encouraged countries to cooperate rather than fight over such resources. "We need a consensus on how we can generate and sustain growth within countries, and cooperation across countries at the bilateral, regional and global levels to expand the economic space for all," he said.

"The prosperity of our neighbours is good for our own prosperity," added Mr Heng, who was giving the welcome address at the Singapore Summit, a conference attended by chief executives and financial leaders and organised by government agencies.

They will discuss themes such as sustainable growth, Asia's economic integration and the impact of changes in the global energy market during the three-day event.

Mr Heng stressed the notion of cooperation, noting that "working together, we can grow the pie". "And with new ideas, new technology, we can expand our space for growth, provided we have good rules, and a willingness to cooperate."

He added that more "free economies" can develop if there is also innovation driven by new ideas, new technologies and new "ways of working".

Mr Heng, a former Monetary Authority of Singapore managing director, said the main lesson from the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 was that "real, sustainable growth can only come from the hard and continual work of restructuring, and ultimately from productivity growth".

It was good that the global financial crisis "did not result in a closing of markets", he noted.

Even so, "we need a more positive agenda - to continue to open up markets to trade and investment", he said.

He recounted that when he "joined the world of central banking in 2006, it was a time of optimism and even exuberance". "Central banks around the world were expressing quiet confidence in our ability to engineer stable growth and low inflation."

But the global financial crisis had a "great dampening effect".

"Confidence and optimism has been replaced by uncertainty and doubt... investment has been moribund for an extended period and is only now showing tentative signs of life."

However, he said that recent developments such as in shale gas and advancements in information technology were positive signs. Another reason for "cautious optimism" was that "gradually but surely, policymakers around the world are beginning to take structural reforms to heart".

melissat@sph.com.sg

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