Singapore, France to push links between R&D scientists, top firms

Singapore, France to push links between R&D scientists, top firms
(L-R) DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam; President of the French Republic François Hollande and Chairman, ISEAS Board of Trustees Prof Wang GungWu at 40th Singapore Lecture at Ritz Carlton, on March 27. Photo: Wee Teck Hian/TODAY
Published: 4:00 AM, March 28, 2017
Updated: 5:15 AM, March 28, 2017

SINGAPORE — With the advanced world plagued by several years of weak productivity growth, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday cited a “widening gap between firms at the frontier of knowledge, productivity and new products, and the rest of the economy” as the issue at the heart of the problem.

And with both France and Singapore recognising the problem, the two countries will work together to encourage partnerships between research and development (R&D) scientists and leading firms, as well as spread the impact of innovations quickly so that many more companies and people can ride on them, said Mr Tharman.

He was speaking at the Singapore-France Innovation Forum held at Biopolis which was also attended by French President Francois Hollande.

Mr Tharman noted that French firms are “very good examples” of companies near the frontier that continue to be highly productive and innovative.

However, the much larger mass of firms, which are not near the frontiers, have seen little or no productivity growth.

“Put another way, almost everywhere in the developed world, we have seen a weakening in the pace with which new ideas, new innovations are spread, from the frontier to the rest of our economies. These growing gaps in productivity have also been an important driver of wage inequalities in most developed countries,” Mr Tharman said.

He added that some recent studies also showed that while the leading firms continue to get strong returns from R&D, most companies are not doing well in getting value from their investments. As their national strategies, both France and Singapore aim to grow innovation “in all its dimensions”, Mr Tharman noted.

“In other words, to strengthen innovation at the frontiers of knowledge as well as to spread new ideas more quickly through the rest of our economies,” he said. Adding that bilateral cooperation can enhance these strategies, Mr Tharman stressed that there is much the two countries can learn from each other in the field of skills development, with France and Singapore having both embarked on major programmes to encourage life-long learning among their peoples. Other areas of cooperation included aerospace, smart cities, financial technology as well as health and biomedical sciences.

Mr Tharman noted that both countries — which face similar challenges in accelerating innovation and productivity growth — have been deepening their partnerships in research, industry collaborations and talent exchange. For example, Singapore will soon be part of the “La French Tech” initiative, a worldwide network of French technology entrepreneurs, investors and executives which has been established in major international cities to facilitate innovative partnerships and the internationalisation of French tech start-ups.

In his speech, Mr Hollande — who spoke in French — reiterated that both countries “share the same priority for innovation”. In fact, innovation is at the heart of the history and relations between Singapore and France, he said.

He noted that both countries cannot rely only on natural resources and their main assets are human and technological capital. “It is our creativity, our ability ... it is also our spirit of entrepreneurship, and all these are going to give us a relative advantage in globalisation,” said Mr Hollande.

Stressing the need for economies to remain open, he noted that “many big countries want to look inward” but he pointed out that globalisation has improved the world, and helped emerging countries mature. “It doesn’t mean that there are no inequalities or no poverty to be eliminated or unemployment to bring down in each of our countries,” he said.

Mr Tharman also reiterated that Singapore has to remain an open economy.

“At a time when the world continues to face heightened uncertainties, and as technological disruptions threaten … to upend the status quo in numerous industries, it is tempting for nations to question the value of remaining open to the world,” he said.

“This is not an option for Singapore. Like France, we remain committed to international cooperation and growing ... relationships with other countries, so that we can tap each other’s strengths to create a better future for our people.”