Singapore building digital economy agreements to help professional services access overseas markets

SINGAPORE – Singapore is devoting efforts to build a network of digital economy agreements to help professional services firms access overseas markets.

This is one of the key initiatives in strengthening the sector’s competitive advantage in the face of greater economic uncertainty, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said on Thursday morning (Oct 1).

Noting that the high-growth professional services sector underpins Singapore’s status as a business hub, Mr Chan said: “How well it does will determine and shape the future trajectory of Singapore’s growth.

“If we do well, we will be able to create many job opportunities for Singaporeans not only locally but in the region and other parts of the world. That’s how we are able to grow our external wing.”

Speaking at a briefing during a visit to PwC’s office in Marina One, he said that many businesses will be looking for “clearer ideas on how to deal with the uncertainty, and how to transform their business models to survive and thrive in a Covid-19 world”.

“Many companies will be accelerating their transformation process. But… they will need better and sharper analysis and trusted partners to walk this journey with them,” he added.

With the global geopolitical situation aggravating matters, he said many companies are also concerned with their ability to operate across different markets in a bifurcating or fragmenting world.

“To be able to site their operations out of a place where they can service different parts of the global ecosystem even in a bifurcating world, therein lies the opportunity for Singapore,” said Mr Chan.

In order to strengthen Singapore’s competitive advantage in professional services, he said the Government will “make sure we establish the right macro-conditions for the sector to thrive”.

“We will continue to work hard on our network of free trade agreements to allow our firms to access markets beyond Singapore. More importantly, we will strengthen the effort to build a whole new network of digital economy agreements, which is particularly important for… professional services firms to access markets through the digital realm,” he said.

“We want to be seen as a hub where people can…exchange, analyse and process their data in a safe secure environment.”

He added that on the legal side, Singapore has also created a whole network of legal conventions “to establish ourselves as a choice location for legal and financial services”, which will help strengthen Singapore’s position as the region’s financial hub.

Singapore must continue to leverage our trust in its brand as well.

“It’s about whether clients can trust us with their information and data, whether they can trust the quality of our work, which is increasingly not just about a single dimension of accounting or legal services, (but)… bringing about different competencies to provide them a suite of services, from business transformation to how they can access new markets, develop new products and services,” he said.

Also speaking at the briefing, Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and National Development, noted that although professional services sector was affected by global lockdowns and Singapore’s circuit breaker period, “some of the work is starting to come back but some part of this will also be dependent on global travel”.

“In the medium and long term, professional services is a major growth area. We do have the talent and ability here to anchor (the sector),” she said.

While 70 per cent of law firms reported a decrease in work due to the recession, areas such as insolvency, litigation and dispute resolution are picking up, Ms Indranee pointed out.

“Corporate, transaction work has taken more of a hit during the recession. But there’s potential for mergers and acquisitions as investors start to see, from companies that are under some pressure, which ones they can pick up and invest in… And when the economy picks up again, the legal services demand will grow as well,” she said.

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