Singapore’s Heng sees solid SE Asia growth amid risks

There will still be growth even though the growth will be uneven across the world and it’ll be slower than before, the minister says

SINGAPORE • Singapore and other South-East Asian economies are poised to remain resilient in the face of increasingly dour signs on the global economy, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat (picture).

Economies in the 10-member Asean “and Asean as a group both continue to grow quite well even this year and next”, Heng told Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin on the sidelines of meetings of the regional bloc in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

“There will still be growth even though the growth will be uneven across the world and it’ll be slower than before.”

Global growth has lost momentum since the beginning of the year, a knock for trade-reliant nations in South-East Asia, especially Singapore.

For now, regional growth seems to be holding up, with the Asian Development Bank projecting a 4.9% expansion in 2019.

In Singapore, authorities see growth easing to slightly below the midpoint of a 1.5 to 3.5% range this year, after reaching 3.3% in 2018, with inflation remaining benign. Heng said the growth forecast isn’t being revised at this stage.

The finance minister reiterated that a potential worsening of the US-China trade war is a risk to the global eco-nomy, with the two powers yet to ink an agreement that would relieve any of the tariffs put in place on US$360 billion (RM1.48 trillion) in goods.

Brexit uncertainties and a general malaise among workers about how to adapt amid rapid technological change also weigh on world growth prospects.

“The investment sentiment has been affected, uncertainty has increased,” said Heng.

“For investors making long-term investments, making major investments, they would adopt a wait-and-see approach and this can, in turn, affect sentiments further.”

In South-East Asia, regional economies are benefitting as companies adjust supply chains to take account of rising tariffs in the US and China, Heng said.

Conversations with investors “have been generally quite positive still”, Heng said.

“There is a sense that the global supply chain is re-configuring quite rapidly and now people are thinking about the resilience of the supply chain”, which means diversification and movement of operations to Asean economies, he added.

Heng said he’s heard from logistics operators who report a “far higher volume of business” as they move heavy machinery and goods from around the region.

Fiscal and monetary authorities have a smaller margin for managing economic problems after taking unconventional policy measures in the aftermath of the last financial crisis, Heng said.

The minister also made the following comments in his interview:

• US-China tensions aren’t a “one-off dispute” as intellectual-property rights and broader competition over technology will continue; “there will be many ups and downs in the coming months and years”; “I’m hopeful that good sense will prevail and there will be a deal between the US and China”, and that the signals are more positive recently on their trade talks.

• Officials at Asean meetings agreed to share more “threat intelligence” around cyber security issues, and to reinforce basic security practices at ministries, such as resetting passwords.

• The vast majority of recent cyber security incidents in the region were “because users were careless”. — Bloomberg