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DATE AND TIME
Tue, 23 Jun. 2020, 09:00
Tue, 23 Jun. 2020, 10:00
UKABC Political and Economic Update on Singapore
Kara Owen CVO, British High Commissioner to Singapore and Justinian Habner, DIT Country Director will join UKABC partners in a conversation led by UKABC’s Chair, Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG, to discuss the impact of the coronavirus on Singapore, as well as provide a political and economic update. As the UK’s largest trading partner in Southeast Asia, Singapore is home to over 4,000 UK businesses and collaborates strongly in a wide range of fields.
To date, Singapore has had over 42,000 cases of COVID-19 with 26 deaths, and until recently was the country in Southeast Asia with the largest number of cases. On 19 June, Singapore entered phase 2 of their ‘circuit breaker’ reopening where most businesses and social activities will be allowed to resume with social distancing measures in place.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng said that the economic contraction will be the worst since independence in 1965 with the government forecasting the economy to shrink by 7 to 4%. Singapore has said that it will spend 19.2% of GDP to soften the blow of the impact, amounting to almost £58 billion in four stimulus packages. The trade-dependent economy is reeling from the global slowdown of the movement of goods and people. The number of cargo ships calling at the world’s top transhipment port fell in May to the lowest figure ever. Singapore Airlines, a leading global carrier, reported that its May passenger traffic recorded a 99.6% decline year-on-year. The city-state is highly liquid and well-positioned to weather the storm, the Asian Development Bank expects GDP to grow by 3.2% in 2021.
Elections do not need to be held until April 2021. However, on 18 June, the Elections Department issued ground rules for campaigning during the pandemic causing speculation that the general election is imminent. Physical rallies, which have had large turnouts for opposition parties, have been banned moving the election contest online. While this does provide a level playing field commentators have noted that it will benefit the better-resourced parties and make it harder to reach older voters who are not as digitally engaged.
Mercer’s Cost of Living survey regularly ranks Singapore in the top five of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, London ranked 19th in 2019. Immigration and technology have led to employment displacement, especially among the older Professional, Manager, Executive and Technician (PMETs) segment. This shift, exacerbated by the pandemic, along with the rising cost of living has caused social frustrations to increase, a potential flashpoint for elections. With over 60% of the workforce over 40 years of age, the government is responding by expanding existing training and reskilling programmes while including a specific Jobs and Skills plan as part of the four packages introduced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng.
The UK-Singapore relationship is an important one. Total trade in 2019 was over £15 billion and almost 8,000 Singaporeans studied in the UK. Bilateral co-operation agreements are in place in areas such as digital governance, data protection regulation, financial co-operation as well as research and development. Trade with Singapore is expected to benefit if the UK joins the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), to which Singapore is a member, and also if the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is developed into a UK-Singapore FTA.
Areas of discussion
- What is the current coronavirus situation in Singapore?
- How is the crisis impacting society? What is the role of education?
- What is the political and economic outlook for the short and medium-term?
- What should UK companies be considering for their longer-term strategy?
Kara Owen CVO – biography
Kara has been the British High Commissioner to Singapore since 26 June 2019.
Kara comes to Singapore from her most recent appointment as Director for the Americas at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Prior to that, Kara served four years as Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Paris, during which she was awarded the Commander of the Victoria Order by HM the Queen. Kara has a lifelong interest in the Southeast Asian region, begun during her teenage years when her parents lived in the Philippines and cemented during her diplomatic postings to Hong Kong and Hanoi.
Justinian Habner – biography
Justinian Habner is an experienced director who has worked in both the public and private sectors, in Asia, UK and Australia across trade and investment, governance, operations and business planning. Currently, Justinian is part of the UK Department for International Trade (DIT) leadership team in Singapore shaping the strategy and delivery of programmes to support UK businesses export to Singapore and encourage inward investment into the UK.
Justinian is also a Board Member (ex officio) of the British Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, representing the British High Commission. Previously, Justinian worked with The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) healthcare consultancy reforming the global operations processes. Justinian has also worked in England’s National Health Service leading on governance and with Tasmania’s Department of Health and Human Services as a senior policy consultant.