Regional Trade and the Creative Economy

By The Honorable Kirk Wagar
The following remarks were during the CCP’s November 15th Insight and Analysis lecture on Regional Trade and the Creative Economy

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon, and happy Global Entrepreneurship Week! It is my honor and great privilege to meet with you this evening during this week that celebrates entrepreneurship to share some thoughts on innovation, the creative economy and U.S. economic engagement in the region. I would like to thank the Motion Picture Association, the Centre for Content Promotion (CCP) and Singapore Management University for sponsoring this event.

U.S. Embrace of Innovation

Meaningful innovation comes from all levels of society and business – from startups to Fortune 500 companies. Many of the American businesses operating here in Singapore started in a garage, laboratory or storefront with no more than a handful of employees and a good idea. Some of these businesses grew too big for a garage and are now among the most successful in the world today. Countless U.S. businesses here in Singapore and the region are expanding the foundation on which startups such as these can take off and make their impact in the business world.

A strong IP regime—one that includes robust, solid, intellectual property laws and enforcement mechanisms—are fundamental to fostering innovation and a creative economy. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. IP laws are the strongest in the world and have empowered innovative businesses to contribute more than $6.6 trillion of U.S. GDP and produce IP goods and services accounting for 52% of U.S. exports. IP-intensive industries in the United States directly and indirectly also supported 45.5 million American jobs, or approximately 30 percent of total U.S. employment.

A healthy, robust legal IP framework is just one factor contributing to the United States’ role as a top center for innovation. Other fundamental characteristics of what makes the United States and our businesses global leaders – which I like to highlight whenever I can – is our commitment to diversity, creativity, innovation, and fun.
On occasion, people ask me about how the United States will react to the supposed inevitability of a decline in U.S. influence in the world. I love this question because I can so easily refute that premise. The United States is by no means in decline and I can prove it by just asking a coupleof simple questions.

Where do most of the global trends and innovations in business, entertainment, defense, and science originate? In which country do a large percentage of the world’s leading researchers choose to study, publish and patent? We all know the answer to those questions. But why is it the United States? It can’t just be a question of money or trendiness. No. The United States continues to lead the world in innovation because our culture has always rewarded people who try and fail and try again and also because the United States embraces and rewards new contributors from diverse backgrounds and origins from all over the world.

Now, a word about the importance of diversity as an essential component of innovation and a creative economy. Harnessing diversity to achieve prosperity, innovation, entrepreneurship and success does not stem from the struggles or concerns of just one group or the other. It comes from people of different races or ethnicities reaching out to each other, from Muslims and Christians breaking bread together, to businesses now hiring types of people who they had never hired before into positions destined for leadership.

The United States embrace of diversity is well known. As the world’s largest immigrant nation, valuing diversity and different cultures is part of our national DNA. Perhaps lesser known is Singapore’s story of how it has “Prospered through Diversity,” enabling it to become a modernsuccess story. In just 50 years Singapore, a tiny country with scarce natural resources, has become a modern world economic leader and model for successful development.

Singapore did this by being smart, hardworking and practical. But they also did it by including all of its citizens in the process. I know of no better example of any nation that, in such a short time, has been more successful at integrating its people in common cause for mutual economic success.

Singapore has one of the most harmonious religious and racial climates among all the nations of the Earth. And it is no mere coincidence that Singapore’s commitment to healthy diversity has produced extraordinary prosperity and a growing innovation center and the entrepreneur capital of Southeast Asia.

I would like to publically commend the Singapore government for its great ambition and efforts to promote innovation, open markets and investment. Singapore aspires to become an innovation hub and, in its never ending search for high quality foreign investors, has made it a national priority to establish itself as a regional IP hub. Supporting and aligning with numerous international treaties and conventions, Singapore has developed a globally leading Intellectual Property Rights regime. It ranks first in Asia and second in the world for IP protection, ahead of the United States, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016 – the fifth consecutive year that Singapore has retained its ranking.

A growing network of venture capitalists has established a base in Singapore, recognizing the positive investment climate and the ease of doing business. Singapore’s transparent legal system, top universities with robust S&T programs, and its global business center with opportunities for collaboration all promote its entrepreneurial ecosystem.

U.S.-Singapore Engagement

In our mutual commitment to IP protection, innovation, diversity, and promoting a creative economy, the United States and Singapore share many common values and stories. This year is the 50th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Singapore. We have celebrated this year how far we have come together as the United States and Singapore continue to strengthen mutual ties – economically, security, militarily, and culturally.

The United States recognizes Singapore as a place we want to do business. The United States is the largest investor in Singapore and over 3700 U.S. companies are headquartered here. Ourcompanies shaped Singapore early on, from its very earliest days, and they continue to positively impact Singapore in ways that many might take for granted. Consider our record of employment, investment, and community service in Singapore.

Our companies bring jobs to Singapore, and have done so for as long as Singapore has been a country. We employ more Singaporeans than any other. The ten largest U.S. companies alone here employ the equivalent of nearly half of Singapore’s entire civil service. One of our 3,700companies here – Citibank – alone employs 10,000 people.

Our firms are some of the most sought after in desirable employment. Whether its engineering the latest chip technology, operating the complex network of petrochemical processors, managing financial accounts for Wall Street’s biggest banks, animating the latest blockbuster film, or marketing quintessential American brands like Harley Davidson, Johnson & Johnson, Facebook, and Apple, we’re very proud that a host of Singaporeans and other local nationals in the region are part of our companies families in Asia.

The United States is by far the largest foreign direct investor in Singapore, exceeding the FDI from Japan, Korea and China into Singapore combined. At latest count, our cumulative FDI reached $180 billion. Our investments in hardware – everything from landmarks such as the Marina Bay Sands to the most modern research and high tech production centers in the world –are readily apparent.

Less noticeable, but perhaps more meaningful, are the investments our companies have made in the Singaporeans who are part of them. Our companies sink millions of dollars every year, giving their employees skills and experiences – investments in people that help them realize their full potential – including, we hope – tapping into and encouraging individual creativity and innovation – demonstrating how greatly our companies value their employees.

Every day, our companies are investing in the communities in which they operate. One IT company gives its employees here a couple of workdays a year to dedicate to volunteer work. Another U.S. firm contributed over $10 million in equipment and over 20 years of staff time to upgrade the IT skills and resources of Singapore, through education, research, and technology transfers. Thousands of the trees in Singapore came about from tree planting programs by our companies. Another program from one of our companies gives primary and secondary school children from under-served families the opportunity to gain knowledge and new skills that will benefit their education. The list goes on, but in short, although our companies are modest about it, they have played a huge role in Singapore’s development, and continue to do so now.

Innovation and the State Visit

You may know that in August, President Obama hosted Prime Minister Lee for a State Visit – the first such visit for a Singaporean leader in over 30 years, and the only State Visit for an ASEAN member the President has hosted in his two terms. The State visit, celebrating our 50 years of diplomatic relations, underscored not only how much we value our relationship with Singapore, but also the confidence we have in how our two countries can positively shape this region.

During the visit, President Obama and Prime Minister Lee spoke about many strategic facets of our relationship – one of which that got a lot of attention is our increasing collaborations in innovation, entrepreneurship and advancing technology to tackle many of society’s complex problems and needs. At the center of that effort are top global brands, leaders at the forefront of innovation, many of which have chosen Singapore as their regional headquarters.

An increasing trend among U.S. companies in Singapore is the establishment of innovation labs–which provide resources and space to foster innovation, incubate the next wave of start-ups, and enhance productivity and quality of life. The value and benefits that this type of innovation promotion brings to communities here in Asia and globally are huge. Critical to the success of these endeavors are the collective vision and effort from diverse actors –government, industry, academic, and venture capital funders. Supported by strong IP protections, free and open markets, and business friendly laws and regulations, the innovations hatched out of these labs and others can have far reaching benefits – from individual consumers, to entrepreneurs, to SMEs, and all the way up to research institutions and governments searching for next generation Smart City solutions – one of the new priority areas of strategic cooperation we identified at the State Visit.

We are proud that our companies promote and advance the principles and conditions that foster innovation and creativity. Supported by the United States and innovative companies, Singapore is investing in its future, embracing an entrepreneurial spirit, encouraging a flourishing and vibrant interest in the arts and humanities, launching environmentally sound initiatives and strengthening its commitment to peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I am confident that our engagement in the region, with visionary partners including Singapore promoting prosperity and diversity, will help further boost creativity and innovation in the region. U.S. engagement in Singapore and Southeast Asia over the decades demonstrates without equivocation how greatly we value the region. Further promotion of creativity, diversity, and innovation is critical to the future prosperity of this region, and we are committed to further expanding these values to help Southeast Asia further excel.

The Honorable Kirk Wagar served as the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Singapore from September 2013 to January 2017