Opening Address by Mdm Halimah Yacob, Speaker, Parliament of Singapore, at RSIS-WTO Parliamentarian Workshop 2017
15 May 2017 | 9 am
Pan Pacific Singapore
Fellow Parliamentarians, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to be here at the eighth edition of the Parliamentarian Workshop on International Trade co-hosted by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). On behalf of my fellow MPs in Singapore, it is my pleasure to welcome our Parliamentary colleagues from the Asia-Pacific countries to Singapore.
This Workshop first started in 2009 when the Global Financial Crisis struck and brought many global economies to their knees. The Southeast Asian economies especially were hit with unexpected speed and force, but the region’s recovery from the crisis was faster and stronger than expected. The region’s swift rebound from the crisis is attributed to its strong economic fundamentals and active participation in the global value chains.
In retrospect, it is instructive to examine how these economies managed to bounce back from the earlier 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Instead of resorting to protectionism as a response to the crisis, the ASEAN members resolutely desisted from taking that route and had chosen to take the high road to an open economic system. At their second Informal ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, in December 1997, ASEAN leaders resolved to accelerate the implementation of the ASEAN Free Trade Area, and the ASEAN Investment Area aimed at realising a free and open investment regime was formed in 1998.
Today, the Southeast Asian economies are much stronger and in better shape. According to the Asian Development Bank, the growth outlook for the region this year is at respectable 4.8 %. I am glad the member states have continued to pursue wider and deeper economic integration to bolster resilience and sustainable growth. The ASEAN Economic Community aims to transform the region into a globally competitive single market, and the production base comprising more than 600 million people and initiatives to increase trade and investment and integrate micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) into the global value chains, are now in place. ASEAN members are also enhancing ties with key trading partners via agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
ASEAN’s story reminds us that prosperity and growth are better fostered through implementing economic reforms and engaging in trade than via the adoption of protectionist policies. We need to participate more, not less, in a global multilateral trading regime that adheres to international rules and regulations.
Singapore supports the multilateral trading system and WTO. As two-thirds of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are generated by external demand, we must always be open to trade, innovation, talent and ideas. Being innovative and open to the world economy helps our people and businesses seek new opportunities in the global market. Rules facilitating the free movement of goods, services, and investments not only enable us to further capitalise on our comparative advantage but also deepen our economic linkages with our partners.
Singapore’s deep engagement in the global economy can be seen in the many international recognitions that it has received. We have been placed second amongst 190 economies in ease of doing business by the World Bank in its latest ranking and we are ranked the second among the 30 leading business centres globally by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in its 2016 report.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The world today is very different from what it was at the start of the decade. We are now in a period of political uncertainties where anti-trade and anti-globalisation sentiments loom large. Due to the global value chains that characterise today’s trade, it is impossible for any country to evade negative impacts of protectionist policies. Thus, we must be strongly committed to an open, rules-based multilateral trading system. Doing so allows us to tap on to the forces of globalisation and market opportunities that free trade unlocks.
The challenge for us today is that globalisation and free are seen as bringing about winners and losers in their wake. As parliamentarians we can all agree with the recent IMF report that the benefits of economic integration and technological progress have helped to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Benefits that could not have been achieved without globalisation and free trade agreements.
But I must also tell you that studies done over the years also show that the benefits of growth and the burden of economic adjustments have not been shared equally. This of course is reason enough for us as legislators and parliamentarians, through our respective governments, to tackle these disparities especially income inequality by ensuring social cohesion and equitable distribution of resources. This can be done through having social, education, housing and health programmes that benefit our people. Free trade cannot be pursued for its own sake but for the purpose of uplifting the lives of our people. Free trade and globalisation are, to me, the means to achieving a more equal, fair and just society and we, as parliamentarians, have a role in ensuring that really happens.
In today’s workshop, our invited guest speakers will provide us with invaluable insights into issues surrounding the WTO and international trade. I hope all participants will make full use of the sessions that the organisers have lined up for you over the next few days.
To be effective in our role as law makers in our respective Parliaments, we need to have a good understanding of the global trade environment and the underlying mechanisms that go into the running of the multilateral trading system, including the inner workings of the WTO. A deeper comprehension of the benefits of free trade will help us, as Parliamentarians, to better represent and communicate with our respective constituencies and populations.
This Workshop is also a platform to exchange ideas and experiences with your counterparts from other countries in the region and to draw useful lessons from these interactions. I hope you would be able to localise, adapt and apply the things you have learned from each other in this Workshop when you return home.
I wish you all a most fruitful discussion and hope you will have time to take in some of the sights and activities we have in Singapore during your brief visit.
Last updated on 07/05/2019