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“Singapore plays a pivotal role in ASEAN”

Interview - August 29, 2018

Managing Director of Eastport Maritime, John Ng, discusses how Singapore’s key geographical location, efficient air and maritime hubs and excellent banking system are vital to trade within the ASEAN region



What are your expectations on the future of ASEAN and how do you believe Singapore’s chairmanship will impact its development?

Singapore chaired ASEAN 11 years ago. There has been lot of changes in the whole region throughout this period such as the technological innovation. Some of the countries are under economic development like Vietnam or Indonesia. On the other hand, China emerged and became one of the sea powers in South China Sea.

How are we going to handle all these changes? In my opinion, trade is important to ASEAN so we need to have a very stable political situation in the Asian countries and ASEAN as a whole. Politically China, one of the disputes areas, has been expanding the sea territory in South China Sea. This could affect trade in terms of sea line communication for example. The land is currently under dispute between Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Philippines. We hope that Singapore, being chairman this year, will focus on easing the tension in the South China Sea. We wouldn’t want the South China Sea to be a disputed area as it would affect the trade and the sea line communication which Singapore depends a lot on.

We hope that Singapore also can focus on the humanitarian ground, such as the Rohingya issues, otherwise it could become an internal conflict within ASEAN. It is a great opportunity for Singapore this year within its chairmanship to help relieve some of these stressors. In my opinion, that would have some positivity to the overall economic development.

Singapore plays a pivotal role in ASEAN. Being the most developed country among the 10 member states and our advanced levels of education and global network, we can transfer some of our know-how to our neighbors.


Singapore relies on trade. What do you believe has been the implementation of the AEC in 2015? How important is it to carry forward to 2025? What is the impact of further integration on the shipping sector in the region?

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has a strong maritime vision with the China Maritime Silk Road, and in Indonesia, there is the Global Maritime Fulcrum. Different countries have visions to ensure trade in the maritime world. Most of our trade is covered by sea transportation. It is very important that we look at the shipping sector in ASEAN Central Committee in a serious note, otherwise it will have a negative impact for us, such as our deals with China maritime, as they are now promoting One Belt One Road. China will grow on a big scale.

From my point of view, ASEAN should try to work with China closely to link up the maritime sector. In fact, I think Singapore has already empowered this. In April this year, our Minister of Trade, Mr Chan Chun Sing, went to China and met the Communist Party Chief of Chongqing. They discussed about co-operations that Singapore can collaborate with Chongqing. For example. to move goods from Chongqing to Singapore, one of the ways is to ferry the goods from Chongqing via rivers to Shanghai and then to Singapore via sea. This will take about three weeks. With the establishment of the new southern Transport Corridor, it will take just a week for goods to be transported from Chongqing to Qinzhou and then to Singapore. So ideally, we need to have good connections with China as she is our biggest trade partner in ASEAN. We also have to figure out how to connect ourselves with the other maritime hubs in the world. Internally, we should connect with the other ASEAN countries and determine how we can do so within the shipping sector.


What is your analysis of the implementation of the CFE report and the ITMs and how important is it for Singapore to transform its economic transformation towards a value-creating one?

The Singapore government is always forward-thinking. We already have the plan how the nation will be in 2030, like developing the airport, transforming the core efforts into Changi. We want to develop Jurong as the next commercial hub. Of course, there could be some delay because of the high-speed train rail development progress between Singapore and Malaysia. Singapore possess a crisis mentality and is conscious of the need to stay relevant and ahead of competitions.

My question is, what kind of economy are we going to be in 2030? In my opinion, we have to determine what type of challenges Singapore is facing. We are facing subdued growth internally, the anti-globalization sentiment, the global economy has yet to fully recovered from the 2007/08  financial crisis, and not to forget the IT disruption. Fortunately, the Singapore government is aware of these issues and has thus set up the Future Economy Council to drive the growth and transformation of the Singapore’s future economy. There are 5 key areas of focus; one is studying how Singapore can remain well-connected as a competitive key hub in the future global economy, identifying priority industries and markets, sustaining new growth opportunities, developing innovative capacities and preparing Singaporeans for the work requirements in the future. In my opinion, innovation may be a challenge for Singapore and we have to hasten our pace towards our ambitions to become a “Smart Nation” as China presses ahead in terms of technology capabilities.

Nurturing and retaining talent is also one of the challenges because of the not-so promising population growth in Singapore as well as our stringent policy on recruiting foreign talent. We need to grow talents from all sectors within the maritime ecosystem, ranging from business, legal, finance, ship-building, IT, etc. The FEC will examine the landscape for job requirements and prepare our workforce accordingly in the years to come.


How do you see the shipping trading logistics sector and connectivity building evolving over the next few years? How do you believe that the ITMs that IMC Vision 2030 is going to impact it?

The challenges we face today are very real and acute. We need to acquire new skillsets in order for us to maintain our competitive edge. Digitalization will certainly play an important role in connecting business worldwide and make our age-old processes more efficient. Technologies are disrupting the traditional shipping business models and industry players must embrace and stay nimble in the face of these paradigm shifts. Our people must be trained in both soft skills as well as technical skills. Digital literacy will be heightened and people will be able to execute their work more effectively with such knowledge. Shipping data may become more available and transparent and the key for companies in the shipping trading logistics sector is to be able to harness the availability of such big data with strategic analytics to make informed decisions and aim for better forecast of the business climate. These will be the expectations of the industry in the coming years.

IMC 2030 Advisory Committee vision is for Maritime Singapore to be the Global Maritime Hub for Connectivity, Innovation and Talent. It aims to address the new developments and to identify new growth opportunities to strengthen Singapore’s long-term competitiveness and value proposition as a leading IMC. Innovation will be a key focus and maritime companies are encouraged and supported to look into developing future capabilities and solutions that build on technologies, such as automation, data analytics and artificial intelligence.


How important is that geographical location of Singapore to be the gateway for EU and American goods into ASEAN?

If we look at our neighboring countries, most of their internal infrastructure development, unfortunately, still requires a lot of improvement. The geographical location of Singapore and our efficient air and maritime hubs as well as our banking system are plus points for Europe and America to bring their goods into ASEAN via Singapore. Also, Singapore credibility is key to its international standing. When it comes to trade, Singapore is able to play a constructive role to facilitate their entrance into ASEAN countries as well as China.


Singapore is 5th largest exporters in the world. How has that trade route evolved? Is it more reciprocal now?

Trade in Singapore has benefited from the extensive network of trade agreements Singapore has passed. In March this year, moving along without the United States, Singapore and the remaining 10 countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) signed a new version of the multilateral trade pact. This will boost more trades coming in and out Singapore. With the burgeoning economy in ASEAN, Singapore will definitely benefit from their neighbours in terms of trade.


What do you identify as a major growth segment for Singapore in terms of petrochemicals that will affect the shipping and trade?

Singapore has a mega refinery for bio-fuel production which is considered as a chemical product for shipping. If we are able to see higher volumes of production, this may alter the current shipping landscape. There will be more larger-sized tankers calling Singapore for bio-fuel exports, besides petroleum. More trades will thus be transacted here. On the other hand, if we can produce specialty chemicals in Singapore, which are mostly produced in Middle East, more chemical tankers will call Singapore and the shipping activities in Singapore will increase. 


Eastport Maritime is one of the oldest and most international players in Singapore.  Can you define for us the growth that Eastport Maritime plays within the ecosystem here?

As a shipbroker, we belong to the maritime service providers, part of the Singapore’s established maritime ecosystem. Unlike shippers or owners who have assets like ships, our company offers shipbroking and consultancy services in chemicals, vegetable oils, crude oil & petroleum, dry bulk commodities as well as sale and purchase/time charter projects. In the early 80s, Singapore was a palm oil blending hub and we assisted palm oil traders to bring in various types of oils from Malaysia and Indonesia into Singapore for blending. Subsequently, we also participated as the intermediary for shipments of these blended products to Europe. In the late 90s, we provided our supply chain knowledge to companies who are keen to set up their chemical operations in ASEAN countries. Armed with 38 years of experience, Eastport is confident to provide more services and have since expanded into consultancy, operational management as well as financial services offerings, and are constantly innovating to upgrade our value-added services in the face of stiffer competitions and technology developments.