Mr Chairman, Minister Vivian spoke about the contours of today's uncertain external environment. A key feature of this is the competition between major powers for pre-eminence. Tit-for-tat trade tariffs have affected the global economy, including Singapore's. I will share on what Singapore has done to actively uphold the rules-based multilateral trading system, by pursuing the strategies of openness, integration, and diversification.
Economic Openness, Integration, and Diversification
2. Trade, at slightly more than three times our GDP, is Singapore's lifeline. We have consistently articulated our support for free and open trade. The post-World War Two multilateral trading system anchored by rules and norms has served the world, including Singapore, well. However, just like any neighbourhood, we can expect friction when multiple parties, big and small, coexist in the same environment. Yet it is precisely this rules-based international system that allows such disagreements to be resolved through constructive cooperation and agreed rules in a non-discriminatory manner.
3. Singapore firmly supports a rules-based and inclusive trading system, as embodied in the WTO. Professor Walter Theseira asked if we can do more. Together with like-minded Members, we are working on WTO reforms, to ensure that the WTO remains well-functioning and effective for all. This includes updating the WTO's rulebook so that it remains relevant to businesses and governments. For instance, there is scope to develop new trade rules to address e-commerce and the broader digital economy.
4. Singapore's commitment to the multilateral trading system is also evident through our various efforts to advance trade liberalisation and economic integration. Minister Vivian spoke on two key initiatives � the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which we are working to conclude this year, and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which entered into force on 30 December 2018. Mr Mohamed Irshad asked about the CPTPP's benefits for Singapore. Apart from the increased market access for our companies as mentioned by Minister Vivian, the CPTPP is also a forward-looking agreement. First, it updates rules in traditional areas, including services, investment, and non-tariff measures.
5. Second, it establishes a common set of enforceable rules to address modern trade issues in areas such as e-commerce and intellectual property. Apart from our immediate region, we have also looked across the Pacific, to MERCOSUR (comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay) and the Pacific Alliance (comprising Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru) to diversify our economic and free trade networks. As SMS Maliki highlighted earlier, we are negotiating Free Trade Agreements with MERCOSUR and the Pacific Alliance to create opportunities for Singaporeans and Singapore companies to expand into new areas, and enhance trade with emerging markets.
6. Singapore also remains engaged at APEC and the G20, both are key multilateral fora which bring economies together for international economic cooperation. I attended last year's APEC Ministerial Meeting in Port Moresby together with SMS Maliki, while our PM attended the Leaders' Meeting. Singapore sees great potential for APEC's leadership role in deepening regional economic integration and incubating new ideas. At Japan's invitation, Singapore will attend the G20 Summit and related meetings in Osaka in June this year. As convenor of the Global Governance Group, or the 3G, Singapore will continue to promote engagement between the G20 and the wider UN membership.
International Organisations and Multilateral Platforms
7. Mr Chong Kee Hiong asked about advancing Singapore's interests in the face of increasing unilateralism globally. As a small state, we alone cannot deal with the complex and transboundary nature of today's challenges. We must continue working through multilateral platforms, such as the UN.
8. Singapore's role at multilateral platforms like the UN seeks to fulfil three main objectives. First, to strengthen the multilateral rules-based international system for greater global stability. Second, to be a responsible member of the international community by sharing our experiences and fulfilling our commitments. These include countering radical ideologies, strengthening cyber resilience, and promoting sustainable development. Third, to work with like-minded partners to represent interests and perspectives of the region and other small states. We have done this through the development of cyber norms and partnerships in ASEAN, our role as convenor of the Forum of Small States, as well as convenor of the 3G.
9. Singapore does not shy away from challenges. In every challenge, there is opportunity for Singapore to improve ourselves, to share our expertise and experience, and learn from other countries. I represented Singapore at two G20 ministerial meetings on Energy, as well as Trade and Investment in Argentina last year. At the inaugural Urban 20 Mayors Summit, the U20, in Buenos Aires last October, I shared Singapore's approach to urban planning and the core of our urban design, which must be fundamentally about seeing through the eyes of our people. I also emphasised the importance of platforms such as the U20 and our ASEAN Smart Cities Network, which provide cities safe spaces to share and learn from one another, while building a shared commons of knowledge and best practices.
Domestic Engagement and Consular Services
10. Even as we look outward, our foreign policy is ultimately centred on firstly, serving the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans; and secondly, buttressing our domestic resilience. As Minister Vivian shared earlier, diplomacy starts at home; foreign policy starts at home. Given evolving regional and global dynamics, Singapore's foreign policy can only be successful with the support and understanding of Singaporeans. Ms Joan Pereira and Mr Irshad asked about MFA's foreign policy outreach efforts to the younger generation, as well as how to combat fake news. I am happy to share that MFA has been stepping up our outreach to Singaporeans � including our students � to explain the fundamental principles of Singapore's foreign policy and our vulnerabilities as a small country. To mitigate the risks of Singaporeans being distracted, divided and deceived by fake news and online falsehoods, MFA must establish ourselves as the authoritative source of information on Singapore's foreign policy. We have enhanced our public engagement through social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, and WhatsApp, to establish MFA as an essential source for the public to verify facts and news.
11. Ms Pereira also sought an update on MFA's measures to address the changing needs and expectations of travelling Singaporeans, advice for travellers, and the role of our Overseas Missions in strengthening ties with Singaporeans. Our consular work has increased in volume, increased in complexity, as more Singaporeans travel and work abroad. 2018 was another busy year for us. There were several major natural disasters overseas. For example, we deployed a Crisis Response Team to assist Singaporeans who were stranded in Lombok following an earthquake in August last year. We launched the Be Informed & Be Safe initiative to provide safe travel information through various platforms, such as the new MFA website and social media. Travel advice for certain common destinations can now be found on the MFA website. We also produced four short videos featuring common travel myths during the year-end holiday travel period.
12. MFA will continue to do our best to assist Singaporeans who get into difficult situations overseas. To have adequate financial protection against unexpected emergencies, Singaporeans should always purchase travel insurance when travelling.
13. In addition, we have used technology to provide useful and timely services to Singaporean travellers. We are collaborating with partners to improve the public's experience through existing systems like the AskJamie@MFA virtual assistant on the MFA website. We will pursue new ways to digitalise the delivery of consular-related services, and improve user experience through a Service Journey approach.
14. Our Overseas Missions are key touchpoints for Singaporeans living and working overseas. We will continue to work closely with various government agencies like the Overseas Singaporean Unit on efforts to engage and strengthen bonds, so that Singaporeans overseas can remain connected to Singapore.
15. On that note, I would like to highlight how resource-intensive MFA's service of Singapore and Singaporeans is. Our MFA officers work under challenging conditions, and at great cost to our officers' personal and family lives. Our officers represent Singapore across a broad range of fields and issues, to protect our sovereignty and independence, look after overseas Singaporeans in trouble, and expand opportunities for Singaporeans.
16. Mr Chairman, in conclusion, uncertainty will remain a common feature of the international landscape, but MFA will continue to seek out opportunities to advance the interests of Singapore and our fellow Singaporeans. Thank you.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Singapore