Deepening Asean connectivity a key economic objective for Singapore, says trade minister

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Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang at the Asean ministers' retreat on Thursday. He said that during the year that Singapore holds the Asean chairmanship, it will pursue innovation and the digital economy, but that the digital economy cannot flourish if the architecture for trade and investment flows is not in place.
MARCH 02, 2018 - 6:00 AM

A KEY economic objective for Singapore this year, as it takes over the Asean chairmanship, is to deepen regional connectivity to position Asean for seamless economic activity and growing opportunities, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang on Thursday.

Speaking as chairman of the 24th Asean Economic Ministers' Retreat at Singapore's Shangri-La hotel, he said that some of Singapore's priorities would be to strengthen Asean cohesion, given the work needed to advance the Asean Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2025, and to gear up for the next phase of growth, especially through innovation.

"Innovation and the digital economy are key areas that Singapore intends to pursue under our chairmanship. Singapore aims to promote innovation, build up digital connectivity, and facilitate e-commerce flows."

By some estimates, the Asean digital economy could grow to US$200 billion by 2025, with e-commerce accounting for US$88 billion.

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Singapore is also looking to enhance and update the trade architecture to ensure that trade and investment flows continue unhindered throughout the region.

"The digital economy will not flourish without us fulfilling the basic pre-requisites of trade and investment facilitation," Mr Lim said.

Aside from innovation and the digital economy, Singapore plans to improve trade facilitation, deepen services and investment integration, cultivate a conducive regulatory environment, and make progress on Asean's external relations.

"We envision these deliverables that Singapore intends to pursue through our Asean chairmanship in 2018 to bring about tangible benefits to our businesses and populations," said Mr Lim.

This comes as the region is poised to benefit from the global economic recovery and subsequent pickup in growth.

While improved trade and investment regimes and better infrastructure may have placed the region in good stead to attract business from all around the world, Asean "can do better", he said.

With the sixth largest economy in the world, the region's young population, its growing middle class and rapidly increasing urbanisation, Asean's potential has yet to be fully realised, he noted.

"To do this, all Asean member states must stay the course in pursuing deeper economic integration and liberalisation, so that our citizens can enjoy the benefits of our collective community-building efforts," he said.

The retreat from Feb 28 to March 2 brought Asean ministers together for discussions on economic issues confronting the region and ways to strengthen regional economic integration efforts, in particular through the AEC Blueprint 2025.