Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the France-Singapore Business Forum

29 October 2013

Thank you Mr Burelle

Friends, ladies and gentlemen

I was last here five years ago, many things in the world has changed since then. In Europe you certainly have been through dramatic upheavals and recovery. In Asia too, things have not been static. We have done reasonably well in Asia, the economies have grown, trade has grown amongst ourselves, now Asia accounts for more than a third of global GDP and by 2030 we projected to reach one half.

The region is working to integrate more closely with one another - various schemes, different names but basically one objective to bring Asia, Asia Pacific closer together. Within ASEAN, we are talking about an ASEAN community, it is not quite like the European community was, but it is a step towards significant economic cultural security cooperation between the countries and the deadline is 2015 and I think we will have our programme substantially complete. But ASEAN as a group needs to work with other parts of the region and other parts of the world. We are negotiating an FTA with the EU, between ASEAN and the EU, it is not complete yet but it is work in progress. We are negotiating an FTA with other major economies in Asia – China, Japan, Korea and the North East, India, a sub-continent, a major player by itself, Australia and New Zealand, part of the broader Asia region. We also have a third scheme which Singapore is participating in which is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. You talk about the transatlantic partnership between America and EU, but this is a transpacific partnership involving America as well as a dozen countries on both sides of the Asia Pacific – Chile, Peru, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia and a few others. These are links between the region and the rest of the world. The rest of the world for us also includes very importantly Europe because you are a major economy and you have a major contribution to make in Asia.

France has significant interest in Asia. Your companies have been in the region for a very long time and you are in businesses which can take advantage of the opportunities of a growing middle class and growing purchasing power and the demand for lifestyle and for style. So, you talk about holiday in Paris, you talk about yoghurt, health food, Danone is there. You talk about cosmetics, L’Oreal is there. You talk about Hermes bags, LVMH or cognac; these are all things which tens hundreds of millions of people around the region aspire to enjoy. So I encourage French companies and MEDEF to deepen your engagement in Asia and to have more exchanges between you and Singapore and other countries.

Singapore enjoys very good ties with France, you are our second largest trading partner in EU; and in fact in ASEAN, Singapore is France’s largest trading partner. The number of French companies in Singapore is substantial, I was discussing this with your President yesterday and he gave a number of 600, so I told him that my count shows 1000 so maybe my number is more current but whatever it is, it is the highest concentration in Southeast Asia. It is not just companies operating in Singapore but also regional headquarters, Michelin, Renault, Club Med, Remy-Cointreau, you are all there and all using Singapore to oversee far flung and substantial activities and rapidly growing markets. You are doing not just marketing and headquarters work, but also research activities, for example LVMH is doing consumer insights research and in Singapore, the LVMH flagship store in Marina Bay Sands is a tourist attraction in its own right! If you go to Singapore, you look at Marina Bay at night, it looks like a jewel box rising from the middle of the lake – actually it is four storeys of LVMH products. We are proud of it and I think LVMH is proud and pleased with it too. Our economic partnership will be strengthened by the EUSFTA we have concluded the goods and services chapters, it will yield significant benefits for both sides and we hope that it will be soon translated into all 24 European languages and will be confirmed, rectified and will come into effect. Because it gives benefits to us and to you - tariff reductions, government procurement rules, opportunities in the service sector, and also I am told important to France, stronger protection of geographical indications. Champagne only comes from champagne, Camembert comes only from Normandie and foie gras comes from Perigod as well as some other places in France so these are benefits to both sides and we hope it will come into effect soon both for the tangible effects also because of strategic consequences because it is a sign that France is open for business, France is connected to Asia, and would like to carry on and do similarly with other countries in Asia so as to widen and deepen your ties. So in the pursuit of this objective, I have brought with me a business delegation headed by Tony Chew and the members are in the audience. I hope you have a chance to exchange business cards later on.

Many of them have some connections already with France. Others are keen to explore opportunities and I am sure from the contact we will have fruitful cross pollination and new ideas and new joint ventures emerging.

We are at a transition point in Singapore. Our economy has grown steadily, we have reached quite reasonable per capita GDP level, standard of living comparable to many OECD countries. We now have to find a way to continue to upgrade ourselves and improve the lives of our people. We do not think we can do this just by expansion but we do believe we must do this through economic growth, upgrading and transforming our economy. Our own efforts in investing in infrastructure, investing in our people, training our workers, making them more productive and more effective working in sun-rise industries. At the same time, complemented by professionals, technicians, scientists and researchers from all over the world - talent gathered in Singapore to make it a vibrant economic hub, plus a certain proportion of foreign workers to make up the number which we do not have where we need people to man all the jobs which we are creating. They can be construction workers, can be manufacturing workers, can be service workers, but we need a certain proportion to top up Singapore numbers. Workers and immigration is a complicated matter in nearly every country, certainly in Europe it is a hot subject, we have seen it regularly in the headlines and including very recently in France. In Singapore too, it is an important subject, we have to manage it carefully in a way which is sustainable over the long term for our society, politically and also achieves the demographic and economic objectives which we have. Sustainable meaning we can handle the numbers, we can integrate them into our society, meaning that our people are able to adapt to the inflow and the new immigrants are not so overwhelming that they dilute our core, our values and ethos in the society, but also meeting our practical needs, demographics because our babies are not being born in sufficient numbers and we need to top up with immigrants who will make Singapore their home and their country, and economically because we will need that range of skills and experiences and talents which no society can generate on its own. And you have to get them from all over the world - Europe, America, China, India wherever there are people who have something special to contribute; I think we have to see how they can fit in to Singapore. So that is the context in which we are trying to upgrade ourselves, enlarge our base, to deepen our capabilities and to improve our people's lives and to do it in an open way so we maintain our links with our friends and we develop win-win, mutually beneficial relationships. And today’s early morning meeting is one modest effort to push in that direction with an important and old friend in Europe which is France.