Singapore budget: Wary of ‘deep shifts’ in global environment, focusing on building local capabilities

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The changing global landscape, underpinned by protectionist politics and advances in technology, presents both challenges and opportunities for Singapore, and the city state's firms and workers must enhance capabilities to thrive, according to the country's finance minister.

Presenting the annual budget statement in Parliament on Monday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said Singapore must take "decisive action" to position the country amid such "deep shifts" in the global economic environment.

Outlining the government's revenue and expenditure for the financial year 2017-2018, Heng said Singapore is expected to see an overall surplus of S$1.9 billion ($1.3 billion).

Singapore, an economy that has long hung its hat on its openness, is particularly vulnerable to any slowdown in global trade. Its maturing economy and aging population also threaten to stall growth.

"Many economies going through (falling birth rates and aging population) have seen their economic growth falling to 1 percent or lower. If Singapore presses on with productivity improvement, we can do better," Heng said.

The release of Singapore's budget statement came hot on the heels of better-than-expected growth figures that showed a 12.3 percent quarter-on-quarter economic expansion in the last quarter of 2016 on improved manufacturing performance. This was up from the government's initial estimate of 9.1 per cent.

Despite that, the government has kept official growth estimates for 2017 at between 1 and 3 percent.

Over the next decade, Singapore aims to register growth of 2 to 3 percent and will set aside S$2.4 billion ($1.7 billion) over the next four years to implement strategies such as helping businesses expand overseas, supporting entrepreneurship and encouraging more research and development work.

For workers, Heng said there will financial support and work attachment programs to help them gain new skills and stay nimble amid today's digital disruption that has altered the nature of many jobs.

Those are strategies were outlined by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) earlier this month in a report. That committee was set up to come up with suggestions to prepare Singapore for social and economic challenges.

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