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Firms, workers’ capabilities will enable us to ride upturn: Heng

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Strong partners also help country ride out economic headwinds, says DPM Heng

Singapore is vulnerable to uncertainties in the global environment, and its buffer against present headwinds are companies and workers' capabilities, which will enable it to ride the eventual upturn, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

"But capabilities can only be built if we have strong partners who have confidence in us, who are willing to stick with us through business cycles," he added at the Distinguished Partner in Progress Award ceremony at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Companies such as the US' Applied Materials, which supplies equipment and software for the manufacturing of semiconductor chips, is one example.

Its commitment here is a "vote of confidence", said Mr Heng, who conferred this year's award on the company. It has invested more than $100 million here over the past decade.

The award, last given out in 2016, recognises companies that have contributed significantly to Singapore's economic growth and promoted the country's interest in the social and community arena.

It is at least the third time in over a month that Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, is shoring up confidence in the Republic's semiconductor sector, as business outlook continues to be clouded by trade war worries, lower demand and slowing economic growth.

Singapore's semiconductor equipment industry had a total output of $21 billion last year, representing more than 20 per cent of the global market. Mr Heng attributes this in part to companies like Applied Materials' significant presence here.

About half its global semiconductor equipment is manufactured in Singapore. It is also the single largest employer in the semiconductor equipment industry here, accounting for more than 10 per cent of a 9,000-strong workforce.

The overall semiconductor industry makes up about 7 per cent of Singapore's economy, accounting for 11 per cent of global market share.

But business sentiment has taken a hit amid expectations of a prolonged trade war, with companies in the industry saying they are freezing headcount.

Mr Heng urged firms to tap programmes that help them deepen industry partnerships, noting that Applied Materials has worked with both small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as public research institutions. These have helped boost local capabilities.

Applied Materials' chief executive and president Gary Dickerson said the company's relationship with Singapore is at the foundation of future infrastructure for the data economy - which some say will create more than US$10 trillion (S$14 trillion) in economic value.