| SINGAPORE, April 4
SINGAPORE, April 4 Singapore is hoping that
building expertise in high-tech niches such as 3D printing and
robotics will let it sustain a large manufacturing sector
despite the exit of many labour-intensive industries to cheaper
bases elsewhere in Asia.
In line with government efforts to lift productivity and cut
reliance on foreign workers - whose big numbers have made
citizens unhappy - Singapore's Economic Development Board (EDB)
no longer courts multinational companies that want to employ
many low-cost employees.
But it keenly wants to pull in more companies for
"The future of manufacturing for us is about disruptive
technologies, areas like 3D printing, automation and robotics,"
EDB Managing Director Yeoh Keat Chuan told Reuters.
The economic planning agency is hoping more firms will
follow Rolls-Royce and Procter & Gamble to take
advantage of new technologies it's trying to promote, as well as
Singapore's low tax rates and other incentives.
Last week, P&G opened a S$250 million ($198 million)
research centre in the city-state and has signed an agreement
with Singapore's science and technology agency giving it access
to Singapore's universities and hospital research facilities.
Rolls Royce signed a S$75 million deal with one university
last year to do research into computational engineering and
The EDB, which has helped drive the island's transformation
from a trading outpost to an economic powerhouse, lured
technology companies in the late 1960s and 1970s with incentives
and low-cost labour.
Operations to assemble televisions and components have gone
to Asian countries with much lower wages. However, manufacturing
still accounts for about 20 percent of Singapore's gross
domestic product, and the government wants the level to remain
20-25 percent. In rival financial centre Hong Kong,
manufacturing makes up about 2 percent of the economy.
Singapore is focused on developing a regional manufacturing
supply chain, where companies can base labour-intensive work in
nearby countries, while engineering and design work is done at
And it hosts sophisticated manufacturing. About one-third of
the world's hearing aids are made in Singapore, many by German
engineering conglomerate Siemens AG.
But for manufacturing in general, "it's not possible for us
to do everything in Singapore," said Yeoh. "Activities which
are much more labour intensive and can't be sustained in
Singapore will need to move out."
He is hoping higher-paid work in sectors such as 3D printing
and biologics - making drugs from proteins in cell cultures
rather than synthetically - can expand.
In the service sector, Singapore wants to develop
technologies for e-commerce and big data.
The city-state has a target of 2,500 data analytics
professionals by 2017. Already, about half of Southeast Asia's
data centre capacity is in Singapore.
"That's not because we have low-cost energy, we don't, or
because our weather is cool, it's not, but because companies
feel very confident about the security of the data residing in
Singapore," said Yeoh, who has led the EDB since 2012.
Singapore's shipyards industry is one that may have to
shrink as part of the government's productivity drive. While it
currently employs 120,000 of the city-state's 5.3 million
people, the number of foreign workers versus local is 5-to-1, a
ratio the government wants at 3.5-to-1 by 2018.
GLOBAL, REGIONAL HQS
One set of foreigners the government is keen to maintain are
top-level executives, as it tries to get more multinationals to
set up regional or international headquarters.
Last year, the city-state received a boost when General
Motors said it would shift a unit that oversees much of
its international operations to Singapore from Shanghai, a
decade after the company left the island.
Singapore's low taxes and high living standards make it a
popular choice. A study by the Frontier strategy group in 2010
found 44 percent of global companies' Asian headquarters were in
Singapore, compared to 17 percent in Hong Kong and 13 percent in
BASF and IBM are among corporates that
have moved global units, led by key executives, to Singapore.
"These are top calibre leaders - the question for us is
whether we can see Singaporeans eventually taking on these
positions," said Yeoh.
(Additional reporting by Brian Leonal; Editing by Richard