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     FrontPage Edition: Mon 26 February 2007

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Singapore may enter upper half of First World nations within 20 years




This Chinese New Year marks a new stage in our development. In the next few years we will transform our economy.
Over the last five years, we have been growing two extra wings for our economy.
Beyond the original five Asean countries, we have deepened our economic ties with the US and Japan with free trade agreements (FTA); and eastwards we have added stronger economic ties with China and Vietnam, and westwards with India (with FTA) and the Gulf states.
Our GLCs, many small and medium enterprises, and many hundreds of Singapore¡¯s architects, engineers, accountants, lawyers and executives are now doing business in these countries.
Barring accidents, the next five years will be good for growth.
After reaching a certain stage of development, when they have succeeded at home, businesses have to go abroad. Many Swiss businesses are operating worldwide, banks like UBS and companies like Nestle.
After the war the US started a huge wave of overseas enterprises, now called multi-national companies. American MNCs are operating all over the world.
The strength of the US dollar and the US economy, and US military capabilities, have made for a stable international order under Pax Americana. European and Japanese MNCs have followed the US and gone international abroad.
Now Indian companies have become MNCs buying over steel corporations in Europe, and running industries worldwide.
Singaporean companies have built or bought properties worldwide, including hotel chains, service apartments.
Singapore businesses are expanding abroad. Our architect firms employ thousands of Singapore and foreign architects and engineers in India, China and the Gulf. As our overseas activities expand, our earnings from overseas will grow bigger.
Developed nations like America, Europe and Japan have millions of their people residing and working abroad.
Not all Singaporeans overseas register with our embassies. Our guesstimates are: 140,000 Singaporeans overseas. Including Singapore PRs it is over 230,000, 17,000 (US), 19,000 (China), 36,000 (Australia) and 38,000 (UK.)[1]
Now with internet and 3G cell phones they have access to Singapore TV; CNA is available in many cities in Asia and soon around the world.
We must maintain our links with Singaporeans who have ventured abroad and are increasing their earnings and those of Singaporean companies.
Our economy grew 7.9% last year. Growth was broad-based and job creation was strong. The forecast for 2007 is 4.5 to 6.5%. Our unemployment is at an unusually low level.
The world has recognised that Singapore is being revamped. We have been changing our work style and our life-style and made our social and cultural life more vibrant.
We have rock concerts with Taiwanese and other singers, jazz bands, and Western symphony orchestras, ballet, plays at the Esplanade, art exhibitions and many museums.
Our night life has been transformed - al fresco dining by the riverside at Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, at the Fullerton, etc.
The Singapore of the 1980s is the past. By 2010 we will have two integrated resorts. With conventions and world class entertainment, our tourists may increase from 9.7 million in 2006 to 17 million by 2015.
With more jobs for Singaporeans, employers must make a special effort to employ our older workers, giving them lighter work with corresponding salary adjustments.
Workers who are retrenched and, so long as they remain fit and healthy with retraining or re-configuration of jobs, can be re-employed and working beyond 62.
Singapore¡¯s landscape will change. We will have an iconic city centre, a Marina with a promenade that will allow pedestrians and electric golf buggies unimpeded access round the whole Marina, with al fresco dining, restaurants, shops and electrically-driven pleasure boats for tourists to cruise along the Singapore and Kallang Rivers.
New elegant buildings are being built around the Marina will make Singapore an iconic city. The Marina will be like the St Mark¡¯s Piazza in Venice.
We must keep the water clean, so we must trap the debris and litter in our rivers, canals and drains. Our engineers are working on many systems to ensure the water that flows into the Marina is not polluted.
Our drains and canals will be turned into ponds and streams. There will be clean running water, greenery and boardwalks for people and children to enjoy these streams and ponds - fishing, boating or dining al fresco.
Hotels, condos and HDB homes that front these canals or drains will look out on greenery and water. Singaporeans will have to keep their streams and ponds clean for everybody to enjoy sailing, boating, wind surfing and fishing.
These plans have been worked out by the PUB, URA and NParks. The PA is planning sports centres for kayaks and canoes and wind surfing equipment for rental.
The next stage after clean and green Singapore, is a vibrant city with clean water and gardens everywhere. This will be done in your lifetime.
We have studied other cities. Paris with its beautiful human scale 19th century buildings is a most elegant city in the world. Its streets are furnished with attractive furniture, newspaper kiosks and toilets. There is much life on the sidewalks of the boulevards, people sitting around tables of cafes and restaurants enjoying their coffee or ice cream.
London is the most international city, bustling with people from all over the world, hundreds of thousands of Europeans, French, Germans, Spaniards, Americans, Arabs, Asians work there, many serving the international financial centre. When I was there at the end of World War 2, in London, then, as the heart of the British empire, the only non-British were people from their colonies and dominions.
New York is the business centre of the world. It has the UN headquarters; a great city for culture and the arts with great museums, theatres, plays, opera, and rock bands.
Singapore must incorporate their best features in a tropical version.
But without economic growth and an increase in incomes, a country will face increasing social and other problems and decline.
To grow, Singapore has no choice but to attract investments. So we have to keep our corporate income tax and personal income tax low.
And we must make Singapore a great place to live in and bring up children. This is the way to attract investments from the most advanced countries.
And we are building numerous ties with the wider region, China, India, the Gulf and beyond. This is the future.
We have been making Singapore into a place where people lead better lives with the prospect of an even brighter future for their children.
In the first phase we moved from Third World to the lower half of the First World. Now we can move into the upper half of the First World. We can do this in the next 10-20 years.
I wish you all a happy and prosperous year of the pig.
[1] (These are preliminary estimates. They probably include students.)

Source: Media Release 23 Feb 2007

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