Asia must move beyond low-cost, says Iswaran

Asia has to focus on skills development, market scale through economic connectivity and fiscal, economic and social policies that are sustainable.

Low cost "cannot be the basis of long-term sustainable competitiveness", said S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, at the annual Asia Competitiveness Institute Conference yesterday.

Mr Iswaran is also Second Minister for Home Affairs, as well as for Trade and Industry.

In his speech, he said countries must enhance their competitiveness by investing in measures to raise the skills of their workforce, and the productivity of their economy.

"This can be done through continual education and training, encouraging innovation among companies, and helping them to be integrated into global supply chains to exploit economies of scale," he said.

Still, he noted that such efforts need to be accompanied by sound environmental, social and fiscal policies to ensure that the growth generated is sustainable.

"If we succeed in doing so, we will be able to anchor vibrant companies, create good jobs and raise the living standards of their people."

The minister said the Asia Competitiveness Institute (ACI) can play an important role in helping Asian countries better understand the factors driving competitiveness, and what they can do to raise competitiveness.

The conference and ACI's broader research agenda can inform the discussions and exchange of views among policymakers, academics and business leaders, he said.

Mr Iswaran also noted that the ACI has embarked on initiatives to help policymakers better understand how to encourage firms to be more efficient, citing as an example the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) productivity benchmarking exercise that ACI is working on with Spring Singapore, in consultation with the European Central Bank.

Benchmarking Singapore SMEs to regional ones will help to shed light on the areas that need further attention, and enable policymakers to formulate better policies and more targeted programmes, he said.

This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.

This article by The Business Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.