Chew Gek Khim
Executice Chairman, Straits Trading Company
No Missing Links
ASEAN can also benefit from Singapore as it offers a link to trading links beyond the region. “Singapore is interesting in that being a hub and being a very open economy. I think it is often in a very suitable position to speak to both to the West, to East, to China and to India.
No change in company strategy
The Straits Trading Company will not change its strategy in a more open regional
market. “At most, make tactical differences if there were fewer barriers. We might move more quickly within the countries that we already are operating in” Chew explained.
No missing links in AEC
Chew does not see any missing links in the AEC project. “I think AEC has all the ingredients. I think the issue is not any missing link. The issue really is the pace at which it tries to realise those objectives” she noted.
Extracts from Q&A session
CARI: How aligned do you think the interest of Singaporean companies are to those of ASEAN?
Chew Gek Khim: I think it is difficult to sort of assume that all countries within ASEAN are identical but certainly there are many things that we have in common both geographically and as a bloc. I think ASEAN is a very useful platform and to that end, I think Singapore is aligned.
CARI: Singapore has been trading a lot with the West and is experienced in that. Do you think that companies in Singapore these days are looking more towards ASEAN after the financial crisis?
Chew Gek Khim: I think Singapore is looking more towards ASEAN for a variety of reasons. First of all, we’ve seen, it’s not just because of the financial crisis but because we’ve seen increased prosperity within ASEAN.
Singapore is unusual in that being a small country, its GDP per capita is very high. As we see our neighbours prosper, we can see increased potential in ASEAN.
Indonesia has very high growth rates, as does Malaysia. And as the countries prosper, these are countries that make sense for Singapore to deal with.
Over and above that, we also see increased demand for commodities and ASEAN is very rich in commodities whether is it wood or palm oil, mining resources and so on. Sorry, not wood; forestry.
CARI: Yes. Singapore has a very special specific position in ASEAN. Do you think there could be a certain lead or service specific role in the ASEAN integration? Singaporean companies…
Chew Gek Khim: I won’t say a specific role but I think it can contribute. Within ASEAN, Singapore is small from the standpoint of population and geographic mass. Singapore is interesting in that being a hub and being a very open economy. I think it is often in a very suitable position to speak to both to the West, to East, to China and to India.
CARI: Do you think the formation of AEC would change something for your company?
Chew Gek Khim: I won’t say AEC specifically would change but I think AEC along with other moves by ASEAN leaders and politicians which will lead to a reduction in barriers to business will definitely benefit. Not just straits trading. But to any company operating within ASEAN.
CARI: Do you think your company would change the strategy in any way if it were more open within the region?
Chew Gek Khim: No, I don’t think we would change our strategy. At most, make tactical differences if there were fewer barriers. We might move more quickly within the countries that we already are operating in.
CARI: I also wanted to ask what the missing links are towards AEC, you already mention these barriers; is there anything else that you feel is essential for private sector to integrate more fully?
Chew Gek Khim: No, I think AEC has all the ingredients. I think the issue is not any missing link. The issue really is the pace at which it tries to realize those objectives.
CARI: Do you think companies in not only Singapore but whole ASEAN are ready for AEC? Do you think there are even thinking about it or considering?
Chew Gek Khim: Companies are not thinking about AEC. There are definitely ready. Companies by their very nature tend to be more flexible, quick to respond. I think when AEC realises its objectives, the companies will respond very quickly.
CARI: They will be ready. Okay. Thank you very much for talking with us.