Many people have realized that the Singapore model of attracting MNCs to locate their operations here and use that as the base for expansion has run its course. The markets in China and India are big, complex and growing and cannot be run out of Singapore. Every MNC that I have known has a China strategy, a India strategy and most of the operations (factories, R&D centers, support centers) are all located there.
If that is reality why does sections in the civil services in Singapore and even politicians sing the old tune of attracting MNCs to Singapore? And in desperate attempt to get MNCs to start operations here and create jobs, they offer lots of incentives. Once the incentives have run their course, the MNCs pack their bags and go elsewhere.
Rob McDonald the incumbent CEO of Proctor and Gamble who is also on the IAC of the EDB has some clear homilies to offer. One, he is absolutely right when he says that the single minded pursuit of foreign investment (sometimes at the cost of local industry development) has ceased to be a winning proposition for growth. Labour costs have gone up and so has the cos tof doing business. Moreover other countries have become equally attractive.
Singapore’s R&D sector despite Government pumping in billions of dollars have not borne fruit. Though it is early to make conclusive judgment, trends seems to indicate that we have a long way to go. It is as easy to set up a R&D centre in Shanghai or Bangalore and may be more effective, given the availability of talent and cost. Mr. Ngiam’s article here also reinforces the view.
Singapore needs an urgent makeover. One key aspect is to reduce its dependence on MNCs, support more local companies, reduce the role of the GLCs and reduce business costs. It is not that Singapore doesn’t pursue initiatives here, but it has a strong preference for MNC courting.
What is interesting is that for the first time, the Straits Times actually carried the candid views of the International Advisory Committee of the EDB. Normally you see PR speak, but this time some truths and homilies have also come about.
Guess, things are changing.