'Little Red Dot,' big opportunity

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Singapore by Flickr user David Russo

The results are out, and Singapore once again tops the charts in the much-talked-about Doing Business rankings! When you’re a trade or private sector development specialist, it’s the details that get you excited – like the number of days it takes to get a product from the shop floor to the market, or the annual cost savings in the millions to a small business benefiting from a new online tax-filing system.
Let me share an example from the trenches. Many cities throughout the world have struggled to keep up with the rapid pace of major technological disruptors such as Uber, an on-demand taxi-hailing service that has caused protests, regulatory confusion, lawsuits and knee-jerk bans and reversals. Singapore, for its part, has gone on to address the problem, even winning a prize in the World Bank Group’s annual Competition Advocacy Contest for its efforts to facilitate the entry of third-party taxi-booking apps.

Through strong cooperation between the Competition Commission of Singapore and the Land Transport Authority, the government was able to show that the entry of innovative technology, like third-party apps, can bring about benefits to both commuters and the taxi industry. What’s more, GrabTaxi – Uber’s competitor and one of Southeast Asia’s most successful technology startups, with a valuation of more than $1 billion – has set up its headquarters in Singapore after originally being established in Malaysia.

This is just one of the many ways that Singapore continues to show leadership and innovation in the development arena in which I work: the Bank Group’s Global Practice on Trade and Competitiveness (T&C). The country is a leader in ensuring a positive climate for both foreign and domestic investors. For the 10th consecutive year, Singapore topped the list of 189 countries measured in the Bank Group’s 2016 Doing Business ranking. Among all countries, Singapore continues to rank highest in making it easier for businesses to launch and operate. Singapore complements its competitiveness performance with trade efficiency, where it consistently ranks among the world’s top five as measured by the Bank Group’s Logistics Performance Index.
Singapore’s rapid, sustained growth and its rise as a global center for trade and finance are some of the reasons the Bank Group recently expanded its Singapore office to create its first Infrastructure and Urban Development Hub. The Hub will employ more than 200 people over the next two years and will help catalyze urgently needed investments – public, private and Public-Private Partnerships – to fill the global infrastructure gap. 

Among the efforts that those of us working in this new hub will undertake are projects aimed at scaling up Singapore’s connectivity and spatial-competitiveness achievements, but in countries that are still developing, including neighboring Asian countries. We will be actively engaging a wide range of partners – within the Bank Group and across Singapore’s government, private sector and academia – to address key global development priorities in areas where Singapore has significant strengths.
In several T&C priority areas, Singapore has had considerable success and, more important, implementation experience that may be valuable for other countries. For instance, Singapore has achieved considerable success in the tourism sector, with 12 million international tourist arrivals annually. Tourism is an area that many governments in Asia are trying to develop in order to achieve the Bank Group's twin goals of eliminating extreme poverty and enhancing shared prosperity.  

Singapore’s strong performance in the ease of doing business, competition policy, trade logistics and targeted investment promotion are notable. In addition, Singapore has achieved reasonable economic diversification by moving up the value chain and has demonstrated sector prioritization, from an advanced petrochemical-refining special economic zone in Jurong to Biotechnology Park in Biopolis, an international research and development center. Singapore is even quickly becoming an innovation and entrepreneurship magnet for startups in Southeast Asia. Many of these areas are highly relevant and are top priorities for T&C and our clients in East Asia and South Asia. 
However, Singapore will not only be showcasing its successes. The country also stands to benefit. As we draw on its experiences to assist other regions of the world, we will also provide Singapore with opportunities to work together on joint projects and to develop a pipeline of joint investment opportunities. This is particularly relevant for a city-state with a small domestic market and with a need to internationalize to sustain growth. Singapore’s public-policy ecosystem, including academia, think tanks, policymakers and talent pool, will also benefit through a strong partnership with the Bank Group country office.
Scaling up in Asia is key to achieving the Bank Group’s twin goals. With the establishment of this new Singapore Hub, and with our work in transport, tourism, trade, gender and many other areas, we will continue to support the government and the private sector in Singapore and in countries across the globe as they pursue inclusive economic growth that benefits all their citizens.
Singapore is nicknamed "the Little Red Dot," but its possibilities for positively influencing global development outcomes with an active World Bank Group partnership are enormous.  Personally, I am excited to be on the front lines.


Paramita Dasgupta

Practice Manager, Advisory Delivery, South Asia

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