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Dyson’s move shows Singapore is attractive

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Economists say relocation will not have great impact on economy but is symbolic

The shift of British technology company Dyson's head office to Singapore is a "significant and symbolic" move as it shows the Republic - with its political stability, policy planning and free trade agreements - remains attractive to global brands.

This is in spite of relatively high labour and land costs here, economists have told The Straits Times.

But they counselled perspective on the potential impact on Singapore's economy, noting that many of Dyson's higher value research and development roles will remain in Britain.

Singapore, they said, needs to maintain its competitive advantages to stay attractive as a regional centre.

On Tuesday, Dyson, known for its bladeless fans and bagless vacuum cleaners, said its corporate head office will relocate from Britain to Singapore, where a rising proportion of its executive team will be based.

Dyson chief executive Jim Rowan, however, denied in a press conference that the move had anything to do with tax benefits or Brexit uncertainties.

Instead, with all of Dyson's manufacturing and a majority of its future investments set to be in Asia, Mr Rowan said being in Singapore will help the company put in its "best effort" to secure opportunities and keep an eye on investments.

Dyson is not the first major business to base its global headquarters here in recent years. In 2017, Japan's big three shipping lines announced that their new joint venture, Ocean Network Express, would house its global headquarters in Singapore.

Mr David Leong, managing director of human resource firm PeopleWorldwide Consulting, hopes an "indirect employment effect" will ripple through supporting industries for Dyson's manufacturing and operations here - such as that of its upcoming electric car plant.

It plans to set up the plant by next year and launch its first model by 2021.

Maybank Kim Eng senior economist Chua Hak Bin, however, said Dyson's move alone is unlikely to have a significant impact on Singapore's economy, although it is "symbolic" as it shows the Republic remains attractive to global brands despite competition from others like Hong Kong.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun pointed to Singapore's free trade agreements with countries such as the US as a reason why companies set up base here.

The Republic's FTA with the European Union is pending approval, he added.

"Even though it may not be the cheapest place to do business, its infrastructure, political stability... is important in a world of rising protectionism and policy flip-flops," he said.