Sunday, 21 October 2018

European Union and Singapore sign Free Trade and Investment Protection Agreements

Singapore, European Union sign landmark free trade, partnership agreements
By Zakir Hussain, Foreign Editor In Brussels, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2018

Singapore and the European Union have inked a landmark trade agreement, hailing it as a signal of their commitment to open trade and its potential to benefit their people.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong signed the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) alongside European Council President Donald Tusk, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz - whose country holds the rotating EU presidency - and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit in Brussels yesterday.

PM Lee told BBC Radio: "It is an ambitious trade deal, it is a high-quality arrangement, and it is one which will fly the flag and encourage others, I hope, to do the same."

European leaders have described the deal as a symbol of their commitment to free trade and its potential to benefit their people at a time when protectionism is on the rise. They also see it as a pathfinder to a wider FTA with ASEAN.

PM Lee and his EU counterparts also witnessed the inking of the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement and EU-Singapore Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan signed for Singapore.

The new FTA will further free up access for each side to the other's market and offer opportunities for Singapore companies to bid for jobs with European government entities, including at local levels, and vice versa. It also recognises the complex nature of global supply chains by allowing some products that draw on material from ASEAN but are put together in Singapore to be exempted from Customs duties.

The two-day ASEM Summit saw 53 partners commit to strengthening multilateralism.

"As a small country, Singapore feels more acutely than most the need for a strong multilateral system," PM Lee told fellow leaders. "But such a system actually benefits all countries big and small."

Friday, 19 October 2018

Singaporeans' average life expectancy to reach 85.4 years in 2040: Study

Singapore 3rd in global life expectancy rankings
By Linette Lai, Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2018

Singaporeans are expected to remain among the longest-lived people in the world in 2040, according to a new study published in the medical journal, The Lancet.

Researchers estimate the average lifespan in Singapore will go up from 83.3 years in 2016 to 85.4 years by 2040, placing it third out of 195 countries.

Spain is expected to place first with an average lifespan of 85.8 years, while Japan will come in second at 85.7 years.

Other countries predicted to be in the top 10 include Switzerland, Portugal, Italy, Israel, France, Luxembourg and Australia.

As a general rule, said researchers in the paper, their forecasts "point to a world where most populations are living longer and many health improvements are likely to occur if current trajectories hold".

The study was carried out by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent health research organisation at the University of Washington. Its findings were released yesterday.

The researchers' conclusions were based on data from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease study, which highlighted the main factors behind sickness, disability and death in individual countries.

The current study is "unprecedented in scope" and provides more robust statistical modelling than previous forecasts, said Dr Kyle Foreman, the lead author.

The study also predicted that several high-income countries, such as the United States, Canada and Norway, are expected to slip significantly in the rankings, as other countries make larger gains.

The average life expectancy in the US was forecast to go from 78.7 in 2016 to 79.8 by 2040. However, this relatively small increase means the US will fall from 43rd to 64th place.

Dr Foreman cautioned that nothing is set in stone. "The future of the world's health is not pre-ordained and there is a wide range of plausible trajectories," he said.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Does GPA matter when applying for a job?

NTU should not be faulted for exclusive job fair

Mr Ethan Chong's letter has brought some pragmatism into the emotive elitism debate (GPA represents undergrads' hard work over long period of time; Oct 13).

Why must Nanyang Technological University (NTU) succumb to populist pressure and apologise for holding a job fair exclusively for students with top grades?

Was it the one and only job fair organised by NTU and were there no other fairs that were open to all? Why can't NTU organise both general and targeted job fairs?

Who is to tell employers whom they should and should not target and what weight they should give to grades?

Employers live with the consequences of their decisions and know their needs best.

If they tell NTU that there are certain vacancies for which they would like to consider only students with top grades, should NTU be barred from providing such a service to employers?

If all job openings must be open to all students, then shouldn't headhunters be banned and all openings mandated to be openly advertised?

Employers all over the world regularly target certain students for certain jobs.

Some have even established relationships with professors so that they can be tipped off on graduating bright students, whom they then approach well before these students graduate.

Should professors be banned from recommending students based on criteria spelt out by employers?

We had better grow up, or we will be left behind in the global quest for talent.

Yes, NTU could be faulted for organising a job fair for top students in a manner not sufficiently sensitive to the feelings of the general student body.

But it does not follow that universities should either organise fairs open to all, or not at all.

In recent years, the legitimate call for inclusiveness has many a time slipped dangerously into anti-talent political correctness.

This spells disastrous consequences for a country like Singapore, which has nothing to rely on except people and talent.

Cheng Shoong Tat
ST Forum, 17 Oct 2018

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Crooked bridge to Singapore may be revived; Malaysia does not need Singapore's consent to build crooked bridge, says Mahathir

Crooked bridge project to replace the Causeway may be revived, says Johor Chief Minister
The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2018

KUALA LUMPUR • The Johor government will hold a meeting with Singapore officials soon, during which the possibility of reviving the "crooked bridge" project linking the Malaysian state and Singapore will be raised, said Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian.

He said the meeting, to be held either on Oct 27 or 28 in Singapore, will also be attended by Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali.

"We will discuss issues including water price, bilateral development and investments. We will try to attract investors from Singapore to Malaysia," Datuk Osman told reporters yesterday.

"We might also discuss the crooked bridge project with them to see if they want to join us or otherwise, and also the third (Singapore-Johor) bridge project. We will get feedback from them." He did not say what the meeting in Singapore would be about.

The Johor chief minister said he had proposed the idea of reviving the crooked bridge project linking Johor to Singapore with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during a meeting last month.

The bridge plan, to replace the Malaysian side of the Causeway in Woodlands, was mooted by Tun Dr Mahathir in 2003. It was dubbed the crooked bridge as the infrastructure would involve an S-shaped, six-lane highway that would allow vessels to pass underneath.

The project was dropped by Tun Abdullah Badawi after he took over as prime minister in late 2003.

Mr Osman said Dr Mahathir had asked him in a recent meeting if Johor needed the bridge, and he had said that it was up to the Prime Minister to decide.

"Perhaps past prime ministers didn't feel comfortable continuing a project started by Dr Mahathir," Mr Osman said. "So he said if we want to do it, no problem, because it would not involve demolishing the Singapore parts of the bridge, only on our side," he added.

Mr Osman also mentioned the possibility of a "third bridge" linking Singapore and Johor. In August, Malaysia media reported that the Johor government was researching the possibility of a bridge from southern Johor's Pengerang district to Singapore's Pulau Ubin.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Singapore Blue Plan 2018: Conservationists set out new plan to preserve marine landscape

Government will work with the marine community to realise common goals in ground-up initiative
By Linette Lai, Health Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 14 Oct 2018

Conservationists have drawn up an extensive new plan to preserve more of Singapore's marine landscape - from mangroves and seagrass meadows to coastal forests and coral reefs.

Responding to the ground-up initiative, the Government has said it will see how it can work with the marine community to realise common goals.

The third iteration of the Blue Plan makes six recommendations, including improved laws to protect marine environments, formalised management systems for these areas and sustained funding for long-term research and monitoring programmes.

It also advocates better coordination between agencies and researchers, further measures to protect Singapore's remaining marine habitats and the inclusion of information about such habitats in the school curriculum.

More than 100 people contributed to the latest edition of the Blue Plan, including biologists, geographers, environmental lawyers and representatives from non-governmental organisations.

The 220-page plan was presented to Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Mr Lee is also Minister for Social and Family Development.

"The amazing marine biodiversity that thrives along our shores and in our waters is something we should treasure and be proud of," Mr Lee said, noting that progress has been made since the second Blue Plan was launched in 2009.

"We will approach the proposals in this Blue Plan with the same spirit of collaboration and openness," he added. "The agencies will study the recommendations in detail and see how we can work with the marine community to realise some of the common goals."

Mr Lee said that apart from funding marine research, the Government will expand outreach and education efforts to help Singaporeans better appreciate the country's biodiversity. "You cannot protect what you don't love, and you can't love what you don't know," he said.

Social Enterprise Hawker Centres: Teething problems with new not-for-profit model

Challenges like high costs faced by hawkers prompt debate on not-for-profit system
By Benson Ang, The Sunday Times, 14 Oct 2018

They were meant to help hawkers negotiate lower rates for services like cleaning, lower ingredient costs by bulk-buying, and even introduce innovation such as wireless Internet services - along with offering healthy, affordable food.

Operating surplus is supposed to be shared to improve the centres, and to help keep traditions alive by making sure hawker entrepreneurs get a leg up. But six years since not-for-profit hawker centres were proposed, the operating model is caught in the crosshairs.

Hawkers are complaining of high rents, being saddled with additional fees for services such as tray returns, having to work long hours despite low footfall, and being locked into contracts.

Makansutra founder and well-known food critic K. F. Seetoh is leading the charge against not-for-profit hawker centres, urging the National Environment Agency (NEA) to end the experiment, in an open letter to Dr Amy Khor, who is Senior Minister of State for Health and Environment and Water Resources.

What went wrong?


The idea of operating new hawker centres on a not-for-profit basis by social enterprises or cooperatives was recommended by the 18-member Hawker Centres Public Consultation Panel, which was formed in 2011 and chaired by entrepreneur Elim Chew.

It was driven by three key considerations, top of which was to let the community "derive maximum benefit from the centre". The other aims were to provide employment to lower-income groups and provide a platform for hawker aspirants.

It was suggested that social enterprise "management" teams look at ways, from loyalty programmes to community events, to increase crowds, and to draw income from ads and to use the funds to benefit the centres and stallholders.

Wi-Fi access was talked about, as was recycling, cutting down energy use and promoting a tray-return system. Instilling social graciousness through posters was also part of the menu. Even then, there was some scepticism. Some hawkers said they would bid for stalls elsewhere if the new rents were too high. Others were worried about having to seek the manager's approval if they wanted to raise food prices.

In 2015, NEA began appointing socially conscious operators to manage new hawker centres.

Currently, seven out of 114 hawker centres are new centres managed by private social enterprises and cooperatives, such as Fei Siong Social Enterprise, NTUC Foodfare, Timbre+Hawkers, Hawker Management by Koufu and OTMH by Kopitiam.

The new centres are Ci Yuan Hawker Centre, Hawker Centre @ Our Tampines Hub, Yishun Park Hawker Centre, Jurong West Hawker Centre, Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market, Kampung Admiralty Hawker Centre and Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre.

In August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the country's hawker culture will be nominated for inscription into UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity - raising a debate on whether enough was being done to preserve the culture.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Public Transport Workers Appreciation: Thanking the People Who Take Us Everywhere

New initiatives aim to encourage commuters to show appreciation for these unsung heroes
Saying thank you to public transport workers
By Zhaki Abdullah, The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2018

From bus drivers to train station managers, public transport workers here help ensure commuters safely get to school and work - and back home again - every day of the week, all year round.

Now, a series of initiatives is being introduced to recognise the efforts of the unsung heroes who make these daily journeys possible.

Among the initiatives is a campaign by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) that will use outdoor posters, walkway banners and bus advertisements to encourage people to thank public transport workers.

Commuters can also show their appreciation online by using the hashtag #ThankYouPTWorkers on social media posts.

The campaign will be launched by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng on Oct 21 with an event at Tampines MRT station and bus interchange.

LTA will partner various community organisations and businesses in these efforts, while the four public transport operators - Go-Ahead, SBS Transit, SMRT and Tower Transit - will organise their own initiatives for employees.

This year, the Singapore Kindness Movement has also been conducting activities at schools and student care centres as part of its Friend of Singa and Seed Kindness Fund Junior programmes.

The annual Transport Gold Awards event, which recognises transport workers who have shown "exemplary acts of service", will also be held at the Istana for the first time this year on Nov 1, with President Halimah Yacob in attendance. Awards will be given to 445 transport workers at the ceremony.

In a Facebook post, National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) executive secretary Melvin Yong noted that NTWU was the first to suggest an appreciation campaign for public transport workers. It launched the inaugural Public Transport Workers' Appreciation Day in November last year. That effort was "very well received" by transport workers, he said.

"Thus, we are really happy that LTA, working with various partners, is launching a series of initiatives at the national level this year to show appreciation to our workers," added Mr Yong, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

LTA chief executive Ngien Hoon Ping said: "Our public transport workers are the heart of a people-centric public transport system.

"They work behind the scenes, round the clock, to ensure our public transport system is safe, reliable and comfortable for commuters."

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Singapore and Indonesia reaffirm strong ties, commit to deepen trade and investment links

Singapore-Indonesia Leaders’ Retreat 2018: Deals inked to protect investors, defend currencies and cooperate in areas like fintech
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent In Nusa Dua (Bali), The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2018

Singapore and Indonesia announced several initiatives yesterday to deepen their relationship, including agreements to protect each other's investors and to shore up financial and monetary stability in the region.

At their annual retreat yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Joko Widodo noted the mutual trust between the two countries, and said they could do more to benefit their peoples.

Amid volatile financial markets, Mr Joko announced a US$10 billion (S$13.8 billion) local currency swap and US dollar repurchase agreement between the two countries.

This will give both countries access to each other's currency and to US dollars. They can use this to settle trades or defend their currency in times of financial stress.

This reduces the uncertainty and risk that can stem from exchange rate fluctuations, in times of financial market turbulence.

"In the midst of this global economic uncertainty, economic cooperation was our focus," Mr Joko said, welcoming the deal between Bank Indonesia and the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

The leaders also witnessed the signing of a treaty which establishes rules on how each country should treat investments and investors from the other.

Singapore companies in Indonesia will enjoy protection and have access to international arbitration in the event of investment disputes, and vice versa.

Singapore is Indonesia's largest investor, with US$8.4 billion in realised investments last year. Both are among each other's top trading partners and sources of visitors, with two-way trade totalling $59.4 billion last year.

Several other agreements were signed between Singapore and Indonesia yesterday, including on financial technology cooperation and cultural cooperation.

PM Lee also announced a project to develop a new RISING fellowship programme. The term, conceived when both sides marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties last year, is an amalgamation of "RI" for the Republic of Indonesia and "SING" for Singapore.

PM Lee said: "We hope every year to welcome more than a dozen leaders and officials, promising young people from Indonesia - not just Jakarta, but also the provinces and other cities - to come and visit us, to make friends, appreciate how we can work further together, what are the things which we can learn from each other."

Both leaders noted tourism cooperation has grown, with three new cruise itineraries expected to bring over 50,000 visitors to Bintan, Surabaya and North Bali by the end of this year. An agreement between Indonesian terminal operator Pelindo III and Genting's Star Cruises will encourage more cruises and facilitate the upgrading of Bali's Celukan Bawang port, and explore the upgrading of other ports like Tanjung Perak port in Surabaya, PM Lee said.

He noted that both countries' defence establishments are also working together on an intelligence-sharing facility.

"Our cooperation will continue during the next few months, and I am sure after the elections they will pick up strength again and will strengthen and grow further every year," PM Lee said, as he wished Mr Joko a smooth election next year.