- The Straits Times
In conjunction with the recent May Day celebrations on Tuesday (May 1), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered his annual May Day speech at D’Marquee in Downtown East.
This year’s speech provided insight into Singapore’s labour market and economic improvements along with expectations for 2018. Matters pertaining to the nation’s leadership changes were also touched upon.
However, with Mr Lee forewarning risks to Singapore’s future industrial landscape as well as emphasising the urgent need for multi-faceted renewal, his latest message was also a particularly cautionary one.
Here are five things from his speech you need to know:
Economic forecast for 2018
According to Mr Lee, Singapore’s economic growth surpassed expectations in 2017 with 3.6% growth recorded, which was higher than the predicted 1% to 2% growth.
New jobs were generated along with a rise in average wages. Productivity growth in 2017 was the highest observed in seven years since rebounding from the global financial crisis in 2009 to 2010.
“We expect growth for the whole year to be 1.5% to 3.5%, and if all goes well, we should do better than 2.5%,” said Mr Lee.
Singapore is vulnerable to external conflict
In light of the escalating trade tensions between the US and China, Mr Lee acknowledged that Singapore would likely suffer collateral damage to its economy and security “even though we are not part of the fight.”
He cited the example of the US slapping duties on solar panels, steel and aluminium which not only had an impact on China’s products but also other countries including Singapore’s exports.
Such a move by the US could potentially encourage other nations to do likewise especially under pressure, making the international trading system “more uncertain, and more risky.”
Mr Lee said: “There will be less trade, there will be less investments. All countries will suffer, but small countries like us will be worst hit.”
As rivalry and suspicion worsen between the two economic superpowers, Singapore would likely be caught in an awkward middle when questioned by both sides on the nation’s stance on the issue, putting peace at stake too.
Economic restructure and upgrading the workforce
With technology becoming increasingly pervasive and businesses always updating and disrupting the status quo, the economy needs to be more resilient and competitive, said Mr Lee.
He specified the transport, banking as well as retail and logistics industries as sectors where technological disruption has made a significant impact, illustrating how changes to current strategies, economic restructuring and training of workers are critical to survival.
Apart from upgrading to meet changing customer demands and contend with local competitors, Mr Lee advised companies to prepare to compete abroad.
Initiatives have been laid out to support industries and companies in staying competitive such as industry transformation maps and the Supply Chain Employees Union announced on Monday (Apr 30).
Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng will succeed outgoing labour chief Chan Chun Sing – who will return to the Ministry of Trade and Industry – as National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general.
Mr Lee said he is confident that Mr Ng “will build on Chun Sing’s good work and lead the NTUC well” while taking the Labour Movement to “greater heights”.
He noted that the changes are part of Singapore’s ongoing leadership transition as fourth generation (4G) political and union leaders are being groomed to take over the reins in the near future.
“As younger leaders take over on both sides, in politics as political leadership and union leadership, they must renew the trust between the Government and the NTUC, and renew their commitment to the tripartite partnership,” Mr Lee said.
New generation responsible for ‘renewing’ Singapore
In the conclusion to his speech, Mr Lee said the responsibility of the new generation of Singaporeans is to renew the country, “to open a new chapter, to create new possibilities and frontiers”.
He advised Singaporeans to embrace values that have brought success, have the instinct to plan ahead, the drive to do better and inculcate a sense of mission.
Also emphasising on duty of stewardship, Mr Lee said that Singaporeans are “responsible not just to the present, but also to the generations to come”.