Your Excellency Madam Frédérique Vidal,
Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation of France,
Honourable Members of the National Assembly and Senate,
Distinguished Members of the France-Singapore Innovation Network in France,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bonsoir. I am happy to join you this evening for the closing event of the France-Singapore Year of Innovation. It is always a pleasure to be in the beautiful city of Paris.
France and Singapore have a long history of close, fruitful and broad-based relations. France has always been a special friend to Singapore, as you were one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with us when we were newly independent in 1965. Our relations have made further strides after it was upgraded to a Strategic Partnership in 2012. Today, we enjoy robust cooperation in wide-ranging fields, including trade and investment, defence, education, culture, research and development, and more recently, cybersecurity, renewable energy, and nuclear safety.
I am glad to have been involved in developing our bilateral ties in various capacities over the years. In particular, I thank France for your strong support for the Republic of Singapore Air Force, or RSAF’s, fighter pilot training in Cazaux, which marks its 20th anniversary this year. This collaboration has not only strengthened our defence cooperation but also our people-to-people ties, as our pilots and their families have spent time in France, fallen in love with your country, and made lasting friendships.
France and Singapore are also natural partners in innovation. In 2017, our leaders issued the France-Singapore Joint Declaration on Innovation, and designated 2018 as the France-Singapore Year of Innovation. This was a timely development. We are both acutely aware of the transformative power of innovation. We value its capacity to do good, and to enrich and improve lives. We invest considerable resources to nurture it and prepare our people for its impact, by recognising it as both a challenge and an opportunity. We also understand that even as we develop our national capacity to innovate, it is essential to collaborate in innovation, especially with partners we trust and with whom we share a similar world view and enjoy complementarities.
France-Singapore Year of Innovation
I am pleased to have Your Excellency Minister Frédérique Vidal here with us today, as you had officially launched the Year of Innovation during your visit to Singapore in January this year. We met at the Global Young Scientists Summit. Since your visit, about 60 activities have been organised under the Year of Innovation within the short span of 11 months. I am happy that there have been three concrete outcomes from this busy year, namely New Players, New Platforms and New Perspectives.
First, new players. The Year of Innovation has strengthened the connections between our research, innovation and enterprise sectors, and brought together new players to start new areas of collaboration. For instance, the AI Singapore – France AI Workshop held in Singapore in June, brought together our experts in AI and featured a keynote address by Mr Cédric Villani, author of the French strategy on AI. Our startup communities have also established new connections. This is an important constituency, given the important role that startups – particularly deep tech startups - will play in the economy of the future. Over the past year, we have seen many activities targeted at startups, such as the pitch competition AMPLIFY organised by the Singapore Embassy in France and Girls in Tech Paris, as well as participation by our respective startups in VivaTech in Paris and the Singapore Week of Innovation and TeCHnology, or SWITCH. These activities have put a useful spotlight on how French and Singapore startups can leverage each other’s ecosystems to scale up into each other’s markets, and beyond.
Second, new platforms. The Year of Innovation has precipitated several new tools and platforms to foster deeper contacts and cross-fertilisation of ideas. Some examples include: (i) Live with AI, an independent think tank to conduct joint research on AI; (ii) the creation of the Singapore edition of Hello Tomorrow to support the development and commercialisation of deep tech innovations in Singapore and the region; and (iii) the establishment of the French Lab Singapore to strengthen interactions between French and Singapore research communities. I am confident that these platforms will catalyse new ideas and create new breakthroughs in problem-driven innovation.
Third, new perspectives. The Year of Innovation has encouraged our innovation players to look at our collaboration from a more strategic and longer-term perspective. They have also injected political momentum for bilateral agreements or new initiatives to institutionalise our collaboration in the priority sectors. I am happy that we have signed several MOUs to cooperate in areas such as autonomous vehicles, circular economy and AI. By working together, we can gain new perspectives into these revolutionary fields and better leverage new technologies to improve the lives of our people.
The EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement and Investment Protection Agreement, which were recently signed in October, will open up greater market access in innovation-related fields and bring about new business opportunities for companies in France, Singapore, the EU and ASEAN. We look forward to its ratification soon by the European Parliament.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Year of Innovation has been fruitful, but our job is not quite done. We have started many new areas and platforms for cooperation, and we will need to follow up closely to ensure that they bear fruit. But in truth, efforts at the governmental level can only go so far. To fully achieve our objectives, it is critical that the communities across our research, innovation and enterprise sectors find enough value in the collaboration to make the necessary investments in time and resource. As the old saying goes, we can take the horse to the water, but we cannot make it drink.
Let me end my remarks this evening by thanking the President of the French Republic, and relevant ministries, departments and agencies, for the strong support that the French Government has given to the Year of Innovation. My special thanks go to Your Excellency Minister Vidal and Secretary of State at the Ministry of Economy and Finance Mr Mounir Mahjoubi for the time and energy you have given to this project. I also thank all the other actors in the French innovation ecosystem – the research institutes, the universities, the enterprises, the startups and other organisations – that have organised, supported and participated in various activities in France and in Singapore. I am glad that many of you are here with us this evening. I look forward to the next chapter in our innovation journey.
Finally, I extend to you my best wishes for the season, and wish you success, good health and happiness in 2019. Thank you.
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