IMF says Singapore’s foreign worker curbs could hurt competitiveness

Saturday, Oct 18, 2014

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s plans to cut reliance on foreign workers could reduce its competitiveness and growth potential while keeping core inflation elevated, the International Monetary Fund said in a report on Saturday.

The IMF said Singapore’s plans to restructure its economy by trying to boost productivity and curb use of cheap foreign labour could eventually set the stage for a long period of sustainable growth.

“However, productivity improvements might take some time to materialise and may not fully offset the effects of declining labour force growth,” the fund said in its annual review of economic developments and policies in the country.

Singapore’s measures have led to a tight labour market and wage growth that have helped fuel core inflation.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore this week maintained its stance of allowing a gradual appreciation of the currency to try and keep core price pressures in check.

The Fund said Singapore’s strong external trade position – its current account surplus was 18.3 per cent of GDP in 2013 – seemed to be stronger than fundamentals justify and the government needed to keep up efforts to boost consumption.

The IMF’s executive board of directors said the country’s dependence on trade flows left it particularly vulnerable to a slowdown in the growth of trading partners as well as to global financial market volatility. “They stressed the need for continued vigilance to risks and spillovers in the financial and housing sectors, and further efforts to promote external rebalancing, address demographic challenges, and reduce inequality,” the report said, referring to the IMF board.

The report forecast real GDP growth for Singapore of 3.0 per cent in both 2014 and 2015 and saw core inflation rising to 2.4 per cent by 2015.

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