DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the Singapore-France Innovation Forum

SM Tharman Shanmugaratnam | 27 March 2017 | Matrix Auditorium at Matrix, Biopolis

Opening Remarks by DPM and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, at the Singapore-France Innovation Forum on 27 March 2017.


Your Excellency, President François Hollande
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning


It is my privilege to be here with President Hollande, and I am very pleased to join all of you at this Singapore-France Innovation Forum.

At a time when the world continues to face heightened uncertainty, and as technological disruptions threaten to upend a whole range of industries, it is tempting for nations to question the value of remaining open to the world.

This is not an option for Singapore. Like France, we remain committed to international cooperation and growing trade, investment, R&D, defence and educational relationships with other countries, so that we can tap on each other’s strengths to create a better future for our people.

Singapore and France ties will be enhanced with the ratification of the EUSFTA

Singapore and France exemplify this approach in our bilateral relationship.  Our ties will receive an added boost when the European Union – Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) comes into force. As the first FTA concluded between the EU and an ASEAN Member State, the EUSFTA is also a building block towards an eventual EU-ASEAN FTA.

We face similar challenges in innovation

Singapore and France also face several similar economic challenges. We want to accelerate innovation and productivity growth, as the basis for a broad-based increase in our citizens’ living standards. 

The advanced world has been seeing several years of weak productivity growth. At the heart of the problem has been a widening gap between firms at the frontier of knowledge, productivity and new products, and the rest of the economy.

  1. Firms near the frontier - and French firms are very good examples of this internationally - continue to be highly productive and innovative. But the much larger mass of firms, which are not near the frontiers have seen little or no productivity growth. Put another way, almost everywhere in the developed world, we have seen a weakening in the pace with which new ideas, new innovations are spread, from the frontier to the rest of our economies. These growing gaps in productivity have also been an important driver of wage inequalities in most developed countries.
  2. Even in R&D, some recent studies show that while the leading firms continue to get strong returns from R&D, most companies are not doing well in getting value from their R&D investments.

I think both France and Singapore recognise this problem. Our own national strategies aim to grow innovation in all its dimensions - in other words, to strengthen innovation at the frontiers of knowledge as well as to spread new ideas more quickly through the rest of our economies. Our cooperation with each other can enhance these national strategies, by encouraging partnerships between R&D scientists and leading firms, as well as spreading innovations quickly so that many more companies and people can ride on those innovations. Both dimensions are important. There is also much we can learn from each other in the field of skills development. Both France and Singapore have embarked on major programmes to encourage life-long learning among our people.

Strengthen and expand our research and innovation partnerships between Singapore and France

Singapore and France have indeed been deepening our partnership in research, industry collaborations and talent exchange.

We are glad that Singapore will soon be part of the “La French Tech” initiative, a worldwide network of French tech entrepreneurs, investors and executives which has been established in major international cities to facilitate innovative partnerships and the internationalization of French tech startups.

From what is already a strong base of partnership, there are emerging opportunities for us to deepen our collaboration. The Innovation Forum today will highlight four promising areas of cooperation – Aerospace, Smart Cities, Fintech and Health & Biomedical Sciences.

President Hollande has just spoken persuasively about what we can achieve in these emerging areas. These are win-win partnerships.  Let me illustrate very briefly with respect to two of these areas.

Singapore and France have been building on our long-standing research partnership in Aerospace.

  1. For example, the Airbus Group is a founding member of the Aerospace Programme Consortium, an R&D platform led by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Airbus has lent its expertise to addressing the complex research interests of the consortium.
  2. Last year, Airbus also deepened its collaborations with the Economic Development Board (EDB) of Singapore. In particular, Airbus has been working closely with our local research partners and companies in the “Hangar of the Future” projects, to develop and test-bed technologies such as additive manufacturing, augmented reality and robotics, that can be deployed in hangars to enhance the productivity of aircraft maintenance.
  3. With Asia-Pacific expected to account for over a third of new aircraft deliveries over the next 20 years , and Singapore accounting for a quarter of the Asian airframe Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul (MRO) market, this partnership was important to both expand and enhance our joint value-proposition as a highly productive MRO hub.

I warmly welcome France’s intention to establish the ASEAN chapter of France’s Club Santé in Singapore (an association of med-tech and biotech businesses), as His Excellency President Hollande has just announced. I am sure this will help foster greater collaboration between enterprises in both countries.

We just had a presentation by some of the partners in some of these areas, and it is clear it is win-win. It benefits the companies on both sides, it benefits the people working with the companies and it benefits the spread of knowledge between our economies. We are showing through our actions the benefits of collaboration, of staying open and taking advantage of each other’s strength to benefit the living standards of our people.

France and S'pore have embarked on major programmes to encourage life-long learning among our people.

DPM Tharman

More broadly, we look forward to our partnership moving to a new level in the 2018 Singapore-France Year of Innovation which His Excellency President Hollande has announced. I am confident that by marrying our strengths, Singapore and France can advance our common national goals of fostering innovation and spreading productivity growth, as the basis for broad-based prosperity. 


The Innovation Forum today is an excellent platform to discuss and advance this collaboration. I am confident that the presence of key industry and research leaders will enable identification of concrete partnership opportunities, that will ultimately be to the mutual benefit of both our countries. 

I wish all of you a fruitful forum.