Committee on Future Economy has its work cut out

True to form as a leading regional and global business hub, as well as one of the world's most forward-thinking cities, Singapore has embarked on yet another major economic review to take stock of its standing - and possibly refresh and reset itself for the future.

Like the other half-dozen strategic planning exercises that it has undertaken every several years over the last three decades, the latest economic blueprint to be drawn up by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) will see a comprehensive sweep of the economic and operating landscape - both domestic and external - drawing widely from business people and professionals in the private sector.

Each of these big economic reviews - and the resulting blueprints - has sought to rally the people and industry towards a new vision and national target of the day.

While the 1985 study, for instance, was undertaken in the throes of a watershed recession, the country's first post-independence, the 1991 review outlined the strategies for Singapore to realise its vision of becoming a developed economy "within the next 30-40 years" - a target achieved arguably a good couple of decades earlier.

The periodic updates to the Singapore economic model - restructuring and repositioning the economy in new directions every few years - take heed of the ever-shifting global economic and business landscape (a trend that has picked up pace in recent years) and also reflects a proactive mindset and approach that has come to be identified with Singapore.

While there is no major global crisis in the backdrop or domestic trigger as such for the latest economic review, it is not exactly all hunky-dory with the world either: There is no lack of economic headwinds facing business and industry in 2016, starting with sluggish if not slowing growth in key export markets, and other risks as markets cope with rising interest rates, falling oil prices, periodic equity market gyrations, and not least, geopolitical tensions and security threats around the world.

At home, Singapore businesses - grappling with dampened demand - lament the perennial woes over rising costs and labour/skill constraints. There is also the issue of: Where does the republic stand in the global stakes to attract resources (talent, investments) to boost and build on its premier hub status?

Clearly, the CFE's work is cut out.

Taking into account the new global and domestic realities, the CFE will build on and update the 2010 report of the Economic Strategies Committee.

Indeed, in just the five years since, developments around the Internet of Things and the theory of "disruptive innovation" have come to the fore; and Singapore, apart from its other global city aspirations, has set its sights on becoming a Smart Nation.

The five areas of focus that the CFE has carved out would seem to cover all the bases, starting with identifying Singapore's priority future growth industries and clusters, and designing the growth strategies for them.

Already, offhand suggestions from private sector analysts see Singapore's strengths and competitive advantages as a hub of premier specialist services.

The government is also pouring S$19 billion into creating opportunities and jobs in the R&D arena. Indeed the continual building of skills and competencies - starting with enrolment planning in the tertiary institutions, for instance - for both individuals and corporations will be critical to the economy's success. It is one of the constants, even in a rapidly changing world, in the remodelling of an economy.

This article was first published on January 15, 2016.
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