Bezos says Amazon needs better ‘vision’ for workers

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on Thursday told investors the e-commerce giant needs a better “vision” for its workers, just days after an effort to create the company’s first labor union was defeated. Defending Amazon’s treatment of employees, Bezos laid out a new goal for the company to be “Earth’s best employer and Earth’s safest place to work,” in his final letter as chief executive.

“Despite what we’ve accomplished, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees’ success,” Bezos said in the letter. Bezos will remain chairman of the board after he resigns as chief executive later this year, handing control of Amazon to Andy Jassy of the company’s cloud services unit.

A contentious unionization drive at an Amazon warehouse in the southern US state of Alabama failed last week as a vote count showed a wide majority of workers rejecting the move. “Bezos’s admission today demonstrates that what we have been saying about workplace conditions is correct,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union that vied to represent Amazon workers. “But his admission won’t change anything, workers need a union – not just another Amazon public relations effort in damage control.” Bezos contended that he took no comfort in the unionization failure.

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

“While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees,” Bezos said in the letter. He rejected news reports that he said unfairly portray Amazon workers as “desperate souls and treated as robots.”

“That’s not accurate,” Bezos said. “They’re sophisticated and thoughtful people who have options for where to work.” Unions and political leaders have argued that Amazon employees face constant pressure and monitoring, with little job protection, highlighting the need for collective bargaining.

Amazon has argued that most of its workers don’t want or need a union and that it already provides more than most other employers, with a minimum $15 hourly wage and other benefits. The Seattle-based technology and e-commerce powerhouse hired 500,000 people last year and now directly employs 1.3 million people globally, according to Bezos.

Amazon plans to invest more than US$300 million this year into workplace safety projects, and roll out a software program that figures out how to rotate employees between jobs to reduce chances of injuries caused by repetitive motions.


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The Strategic Impact of Indonesian KF-21s – The Diplomat

On April 9, a prototype of an advanced multi-role combat jet, the KF-21 Boramae (“young hawk” in Korean) was introduced by South Korea with President Moon Jae-in and Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto in attendance. While it is clear that Seoul’s decision to develop an indigenous fighter jet is driven by desires for defense industry self-sufficiency, along with national pride, Prabowo’s presence signifies Jakarta’s commitment to acquiring the KF-21, thereby further diversifying Indonesia’s air force fleet to limit reliance on any one foreign supplier. The bulk of Indonesian warplanes currently come from the United States and Russia.

Will the Boramae Impact the Regional Strategic Status Quo? 

Based on publicly sourced research, the KF-21 is touted to be superior to contemporary non-stealthy advanced fighters like the U.S. F-16 or the French Dassault Rafale. The Boramae’s selling points include greater operational range, more advanced avionics and electronic warfare capabilities, along with a Korean-made active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which has improved target detection and tracking capability versus earlier radar technologies, leading to more effective weapons delivery. Moreover, the KF-21 is designed to possess baseline radar evading stealth capabilities, which are inferior to full-fledged stealth fighters like the F-35, but give it an edge over potential non-stealthy adversaries.

When coupled with a weapons package comprising advanced infrared and radar guided air-to-air missiles for shooting down enemy aircraft, and air-to-ground munitions including accurate missiles and guided bombs, it can be seen why casual observers might infer that Indonesia’s pending order of 50 KF-21s might impact the future balance of military air power in Southeast Asia. 

Important Context for the KF-21 Acquisition  

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Using the phrase “arms race” is attention grabbing, potentially leading to greater media circulation and corresponding advertising revenue. However, it pays to be more discerning and dispassionate when analyzing national weapons acquisition. Regarding future Indonesian KF-21s, it can be argued that Jakarta has two major considerations: expansive territorial defense and aircraft fleet obsolescence, neither of which should be alarming or sensational.

Concerning Indonesian airspace, the TNI-AU (Indonesian Air Force) has 1,904,569 square km of land to cover and a far larger sovereign airspace over Indonesian soil and internal waters, which it needs to patrol. Additionally, operational and security considerations may, from time to time, necessitate missions over Indonesia’s expansive maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ). All of this requires a sufficiently large air fleet which the TNI-AU arguably does not possess, since it currently has only 101 armed aircraft and six maritime patrol planes to police or guard its extensive airspace responsibilities. Furthermore, not all of these airframes are always available or airworthy since a proportion will at any time be undergoing maintenance or grounded awaiting spare parts delivery. Seen in this light, the TNI-AU’s acquisition of 50 Boramae fighters in the next few years does not look like an unreasonable proposition for national security maintenance.

Turning to the issue of air fleet obsolescence, it should be mentioned that the additional 50 KF-21s are probably meant to replace some or all of Indonesia’s out-of-date warplanes. A quick look at the TNI-AU’s fighter inventory reveals a few models that are growing long in the tooth, and would be obsolete in the next decade. Examples include the Russian made Su-27, which was acquired in 2002 and 2006 (five aircraft in total), U.S. made F-16As and F-16Bs ordered in 1989 (10 still in service), and British made BAE Hawk Mk 109 and Mk 209 jets delivered by 1997 (total of 30 in service). If all these jets were retired due to uneconomical maintenance costs or aging unsafe airframes, the replacement Boramae fighters would only bring the TNI-AU’s combat fleet to 106, an increase of only five aircraft, which hardly deserves media attention. 

Operational Issues Relevant to TNI-AU Modernization 

Lastly, there are intangible and tangible issues related to an air force’s operational readiness and effectiveness, which most journalists never consider. Intangible factors like doctrinal effectiveness and pilot quality are hard to measure while tangible aspects such as availability of spare parts and sufficient stocks of compatible munitions are seldom investigated by the press.

With reference to doctrine, these refer to guidelines on how best to employ military force to achieve set objectives, while pilot readiness is often judged based a few factors such the number of annual flying hours, performance during international military exercises, and combat experience of the air force in question. Inasmuch as military doctrine is often classified, there are no means of examining authenticated TNI-AU doctrine; hence it is prudent to withhold comment about the efficacy of Indonesian air force tactics and strategy. 

As for the aviators, competence should not be underestimated but one should note that the real-world operational experience of the TNI-AU only covers counterinsurgency missions against domestic rebels, not operations against the combat forces of other states. Also, it is not known whether Indonesian pilots receive the same number of flying hours as NATO air forces (100-150 hours/year), but it must be noted that concrete issues like spare parts availability can affect airworthiness to such an extent that fleets can be grounded, forcing pilots to resort to ground based simulators. For example, in 2005 logistical deprivation from a U.S. embargo resulted in minimal to nil operational availability for U.S.-made Indonesian assets like F-16s and A-4s. 

Finally, the impactfulness of an air force rests to a substantial extent on its stocks of missiles and bombs delivered by its aircraft. Putting aside the quality of such armaments, open source research reveals no information about the amount of airborne weapons maintained by the TNI-AU. But it is notable that they procure both Russian and U.S. munitions, leading to greater complexity and strain on the logistical system, which might well hamper operational availability and the air force’s potential. Since the KF-21 is slated to employ both U.S. and European missiles, the eventual incorporation of an Indonesian Boramae fleet could overstretch the TNI-AUs supply network. 

Rational Analysis Versus Hype 

If anything, the KF-21 sale is an exercise in military, strategic, and industrial diplomacy by the Moon administration in support of Seoul’s ASEAN-centric “New Southern Policy.” From Jakarta’s perspective, the Boramae acquisition is probably intended to effect timely defense modernization for the TNI-AU while preserving status quo national interests. As such, overeager commentators should be encouraged to exercise restraint, especially when they understand little about the national imperatives of regional middle powers, and limitations or inner workings of their militaries.

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Singapore’s ruling clique loses its reputation for predictability

ALL SINGAPOREANS know the deal. They surrender a great deal of personal liberty and most rights to political expression. In return the party that has run Singapore since its founding, the People’s Action Party (PAP), delivers progress and predictability. Sometimes, the social contract is made explicit, such as when a delinquent like Jolovan Wham mounts an unconscionable challenge to it. Mr Wham awaits sentencing for holding up a piece of cardboard with a smiley face on it—“illegal assembly”, in the prosecutors’ eyes. For the most part, however, the contract is implicit, because the gentlefolk of Singapore know to mind their own business, while the authorities settle an intoxicating bliss on the clean, green city-state.

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Yet if the people have kept up their end of the bargain, then it is all the more spectacular that the PAP this month broke its side. Singapore has had just three prime ministers since its independence in 1965. The incumbent, Lee Hsien Loong, eldest son of the late independence leader, Lee Kuan Yew, has governed since 2004. In late 2018 years of speculation ended when Mr Lee’s fourth-generation, or “4G”, successor, the finance minister, Heng Swee Keat, was picked out. Mr Lee also made it clear that he would step down before his 70th birthday in early 2022.

Planning years ahead is what the PAP does. But on the eve of a general election last July, Mr Lee said he would stay on longer (ostensibly to guide Singapore out of the covid-19 pandemic). And on April 8th Mr Heng made the shock announcement that he was giving up his role as Mr Lee’s heir apparent. The PAP’s reputation for predictability, says Donald Low of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, has now “taken a beating”.

Putting a gloss on things, Mr Heng, who is 60, said he was stepping aside to give the next prime minister a “sufficiently long runway” to master the demands of the job. Lee Kuan Yew was 35 when he took over, Mr Lee 52. In truth, Mr Heng’s problems—and his party’s—began months ago. The government’s effective handling of the pandemic early last year boded well for the forthcoming election. Yet by mid-April infections were racing through the packed dormitories of Singapore’s migrant workers, a blind spot in the PAP’s containment programme. Apparatchiks suddenly looked unprepared and out of touch. In the election, when it came, the PAP won just 61.2% of the vote. That would be a landslide anywhere else. But in Singapore, where the PAP gerrymanders constituencies, hounds opposition figures and cows the media, the result was a humiliation.

Worse, the PAP team in the multi-member constituency into which Mr Heng was dropped mustered only 53.4% of the vote. Cherian George of Hong Kong Baptist University notes that no prime minister, current or prospective, has underperformed the party like that before.

Mr Heng’s fate appeared sealed then. His retreat this month lays bare two of the PAP’s problems. The first is that Mr Heng, a soft-spoken technocrat with plenty of experience and an ability to listen, was probably the best candidate among the pool of 4G candidates. The second, the lack of a succession mechanism, magnifies the first. Opaque and elitist, the PAP carries out its internal functions with near-Leninist discipline. Its obsession with rules is one of Singapore’s defining traits. Yet when it comes to succession, it seems embarrassingly bereft of procedures. That puts it in a bind. It appears unable even to slot Mr Heng’s anointed number two, Chan Chun Sing, into the top spot. The scrappy, rough-edged Mr Chan, who last year seemed to think that cotton came from sheep, does not look like great leadership material. That only underscores the shallowness of the available pool.

A top-down regime prevents renewal from below. Mr Lee and his 3G cohorts obsess about preserving the technocratic successes of the past. All the main 4G candidates—the others are Lawrence Wong, minister for education; Desmond Lee, minister for national development; and Ong Ye Kung, minister for transport—arefunctionaries. The only way to rise through the PAP’s ranks, Mr George argues, is to have served as apprentice to party grandees—Mr Heng was private secretary to Lee Kuan Yew himself. No wonder many talented Singaporeans shun the PAP route to politics and leadership. Meanwhile, the gulf widens between an increasingly plural electorate and an ossified ruling party. This month’s ructions are indicative of problems within the PAP. When does it become a problem for Singapore?

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Dropped connection”

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Seeking Cooperation on Climate, U.S. Faces Friction With China

The United States and China do not agree on much nowadays, but on climate change both countries are publicly pledging to do more to fight global warming. The problem will be working together on it.

On Thursday, President Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, met in Shanghai with his counterpart to press China on reducing its carbon emissions, at a time when an emboldened Communist Party leadership has become increasingly dismissive of American demands.

In Beijing’s view, the United States still has much ground to recover after walking away from the Paris climate agreement, the 2015 accord to address the catastrophic effects of warming.

Mr. Biden’s commitments to now make climate change a top priority are, to officials in Beijing, merely catching up to China after its leader, Xi Jinping, last year pledged to accelerate the country’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

“The U.S. has neither the moral standing nor the real power to issue orders to China over climate issues,” the Global Times, a Chinese newspaper that often echoes official thinking in brashly nationalist tones, said in an article on Wednesday before Mr. Kerry’s visit.

A main purpose of Mr. Kerry’s travels to China and elsewhere has been to rally support for Mr. Biden’s virtual climate summit of dozens of world leaders next week. Mr. Xi has not yet accepted the invitation, but he will join a similar conference on Friday with President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

It was a pointed reminder that China no longer sees the United States as so central to its international priorities.

There are other challenges, too, that could derail even basic coordination between the two countries, starting with the sharp deterioration of relations that began under President Donald J. Trump and shows no sign of improving.

The intensifying rivalry over technology could spill into climate policy, where innovation in energy, batteries, vehicles and carbon storage offer solutions for reducing emissions. Already, American lawmakers are demanding that the United States block Chinese products from being used in the infrastructure projects that Mr. Biden has proposed.

“If there is a serious lack of basic trust, strategic and political, between China and the U.S., that will inevitably hold back deepening cooperation in the specialized sphere of climate change,” Zou Ji, the president of Energy Foundation China, who has advised Chinese climate negotiators, wrote recently in a Chinese foreign policy journal.

Cooperation between the United States, the worst emitter of greenhouse gases historically, and China, the worst in the world today, could spur greater efforts from other countries. China accounts for 28 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions; the United States, in second place, emits 14 percent of the global total.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and other American officials have said they are prepared to cooperate with the Chinese government on issues like climate, even as they confront it others, including the crackdowns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and the menacing military operations against Taiwan and in the South China Sea.

It is not clear that Mr. Xi’s government is prepared to compartmentalize in the same way. Officials have indicated that the souring of relations has spoiled the entire range of issues between the two countries.

“Chinese-U.S. climate cooperation still faces many internal and external constraints and difficulties,” said a study released this week by the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

“The United States government regards China as its biggest strategic competitive rival,” the report added, warning that the tensions “exacerbated the difficulties of collective action in global climate governance.”

Even if broader tensions hold back close collaboration, talks like those this week could help the two countries to at least understand each other’s plans.

“I do not believe that cooperation is likely given the current political tensions, but coordination is essential,” said Kelly Sims Gallagher, a Tufts University professor who worked under President Barack Obama as a senior adviser on climate issues and China. “Both governments need to understand what is happening in the other country in terms of emissions trajectories, policies and plans.”

John Podesta, who also helped the Obama administration draft its climate strategy, said the Biden administration had an interest in keeping “the channel of communication open.”

“Then it was a kind of anchor of stability,” he said in a conference call with journalists, referring to the climate issue. “Now it has to be preserved as a place of normal diplomatic discussions.”

Chinese officials and state media outlets noted Mr. Kerry’s arrival but did not play it up, except to say that he would meet with Xie Zhenhua, the chief Chinese negotiator in the talks that led to the Paris agreement. Mr. Xie, 71, was pulled out of semiretirement this year to resume the role of China’s climate envoy.

Both he and Mr. Kerry — a former secretary of state and Senate colleague of Mr. Biden’s — have high-level support from the leaders who appointed them, making them powerful voices in the political bureaucracies they must confront at home.

Mr. Xie’s long experience and connections may help him navigate China’s complicated bureaucratic landscape for energy and climate change issues.

Mr. Xie “presumably has the seniority and connections to play a coordinating role between the different ministries and agencies, and therefore his office is one way of giving the issue more heft,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Helsinki, who closely follows Chinese climate policy. “His position has the aura of having been installed from the top.”

The Chinese climate official also oversaw a study from Tsinghua University last year that he has indicated helped shape Mr. Xi’s goals to achieve net carbon neutrality for China before 2060.

Chinese leaders are drafting an “action plan” for Mr. Xi’s goal of reaching a peak in carbon dioxide emissions before 2030. That plan could give China an opening to accelerate toward an earlier peak — possibly by mid-decade — a goal that Chinese and foreign experts have urged. Even if Mr. Xi ultimately embraces a faster timetable, he is generally prickly about being seen to make concessions to Washington.

With the United States, Mr. Xie may push China’s own demands for international climate negotiations. While China’s emissions have raced far ahead of other countries’, it has tried to remain a leading voice for the poorer developing countries that emit far less.

During a video talk late last month with António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, Mr. Xie said that wealthy countries should deliver on promises of financial support to help poorer countries cope with global warming and acquire emissions-reducing technology.

At a video meeting with Canadian and European officials last month, Mr. Xie praised the return of the United States to the climate change negotiations, according to an official Chinese summary of the meeting. He also appeared to gently suggest that the Biden administration should not assume that it naturally belonged at the head of the table.

“We welcome the United States’ return to the Paris Accord,” Mr. Xie said, “and look forward to the United States striving to catch up and exercise leadership.”

Somini Sengupta contributed reporting. Claire Fu contributed research.

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Bhutan vaccinated almost all adults against covid-19 in a week

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The true cost of the demand for cheap clothes, to you and the environment

SINGAPORE: These are items Singaporeans can get more cheaply now than 10 years ago.

In fact, clothing prices have fallen to their lowest in a decade, according to the Consumer Price Index for last year — thanks to an explosion of retailers, including Zalora and Pomelo, competing on online platforms since 2010.

With prices going from as low as S$3 to S$15 for trendy clothes, Singapore’s e-commerce revenue from apparel and footwear jumped more than eightfold between 2016 and last year, from S$52 million to S$442 million.

But fast fashion comes at a price: The fashion industry released 2.1 billion tonnes of carbon emissions in 2018, according to McKinsey — more than the airline and shipping industries combined (900 million and 1.1 billion tonnes respectively).

The numbers vary between reports, but the fashion industry has higher carbon emissions than most.

Is there a happy balance between bargain hunting and saving the environment? Or is the cost of cheap fashion greater than people expect? The programme Talking Point investigates.


One factor in fast fashion’s prices is volume of production. Some “mega” e-commerce retailers can release between 500 and 1,000 items per category every week, said MDIS School of Fashion and Design lecturer Kae Hana.

A top can be designed, produced and marketed so quickly that e-commerce has made fashion go even faster, “and it’s now called ultra-fast fashion”.

In this business model, retailers first find a trending style and create designs in small batches to test demand. If sufficient demand arises, more of those successful designs are produced to capture sales.

A cupboard filled with clothes from online shops, like Shopee, AliExpress and

A cupboard filled with clothes from online shops, like Shopee, AliExpress and

This can be done in double-quick time because of vertical integration in the supply chain. “(These e-commerce players) own the production companies … the fabric dyers (and) the logistics companies,” she cited.

This process, from concept to sales, takes as fast as two weeks or less. And with consumers “across the world”, the more an item is produced, “the cheaper it gets”.

The fashion industry’s long supply chain, however, is a reason for its high carbon emissions, said Chu Wong, the country co-ordinator of Fashion Revolution Singapore.

“It starts with the agricultural and the petrochemical industries for the raw materials. It goes on into the manufacturing industry for the fibres to be turned into fabrics and eventually into clothing,” she said.

“It touches the packaging industry (and) logistics industry. Eventually, it gets to the retail industry and to us.”

The low prices also lead to overconsumption and overproduction, she said. “Cheap fashion tempts us as consumers to purchase more because of the accessibility, and so more is produced. And that’s what makes cheap fashion so dangerous.”

She added that synthetic fibres, such as acrylic and nylon, are often used “because they’re cheaper” than natural ones. But they “have a higher carbon footprint” — the extraction process “is very energy-intensive” as they are oil-based fibres.


The more sustainable options include fabrics such as recycled polyester and Tencel. The latter is derived from wood pulp, usually from the eucalyptus tree.

But shoppers can do more than look at the fabric to find out how sustainably produced an item of clothing is, advised Susannah Jaffer, the founder of online platform Zerrin, which curates options in sustainable fashion.

“Natural materials, like linen, Tencel (and) bamboo, are definitely more sustainable … because (they’re) biodegradable (at the) end-of-life,” she said.

“But you need to go a little bit deeper … read labels, do research on brands. Also, look at how much information they’re sharing.”

Sustainable clothing is not all that better for the environment either. For example, recycled polyester is made from recycled plastic and polyethylene terephthalate bottles but is not biodegradable, she cited.

“When it comes to organic cotton, it uses less pesticides when it’s produced. However, it still takes 2,700 litres of water to produce an organic cotton T-shirt … the same as it would a traditional cotton T-shirt,” she added.

“That’s more than we’d drink in two and a half years.”

Usually, sustainable clothes are more expensive owing to their production methods and are produced in fewer numbers than those made from more conventional fabrics.

And that higher cost is the main barrier stopping Singaporeans from buying sustainable clothes, according to a DBS “conscious fashion” survey in 2019.

Jaffer said many fast-fashion brands are able to produce cheaper clothes in their “sustainable capsule collections” because they still produce “over 90 per cent of their collections through the traditional fast-fashion model”.

“It’s not possible (to have sustainable fashion at cheap prices) because you have to think about the additional costs of production, for better quality materials,” she added. “That could cost (sustainable brands) 50 per cent, 60 per cent more.”


Despite the higher price tags, clothes made from sustainable materials are often more cost-effective in the long run.

When Talking Point put clothes made from different fabrics — including bamboo, cotton, linen, polyester and Tencel — through washing, comfort and durability tests, Tencel clothes retained their colours and shapes better after 30 washes, compared to cotton and polyester clothes.

Cheap clothes are suitable for short-term wear, after which many Singaporeans would donate or discard them.

According to a CNA report in 2018, however, only about 10 per cent of the clothes given to the Salvation Army, for example, are sold in its thrift shops, while the remaining 90 per cent are exported.

Daro Tan, a manager at SNI Trading, which has been exporting second-hand textiles for more than 10 years, said many of the clothes it receives go mainly to countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and South Africa.

He said exporting used clothing for reuse is more suitable than recycling, as each piece of clothing may comprise many materials, making recycling “too time-consuming” and manpower-intensive.

Import restrictions in other countries, however, are making things more difficult for his company. These countries, he said, want to focus on their domestic clothing industries instead of depending on imports.

Since 2018, tighter import restrictions have led to a 40 per cent drop in Singapore’s second-hand clothing exports. In 2019, of the 168,000 tonnes of textile and leather waste generated here, only 4 per cent was recycled, i.e. exported.

The rest ended up being incinerated. “It’s really a huge waste,” said Tan.

So what can be done to solve the problem of buying and throwing away cheap clothing to the detriment of the environment?

“Perhaps less is more,” said Talking Point host Sharda Harrison, who created four different looks for herself from the same black outfit by, for example, combining it with jeans and different accessories.

“With a bit of creativity, I can change up my style with clothes I already have and do my little part in saving our planet.”

Watch this episode of Talking Point here. The programme airs on Channel 5 every Thursday at 9.30pm.

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Singapore economy grows 0.2% in Q1, first expansion since COVID-19 outbreak

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s economy grew by 0.2 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2021, a turnaround after three quarters of contraction, as the country continued its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On a quarter-on-quarter seasonally adjusted basis, Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 2 per cent between January and March, extending the 3.8 per cent growth in the previous quarter, advance estimates by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) on Wednesday (Apr 14) showed.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a decline of 0.2 per cent.

Singapore’s economy has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. After the first case was reported in Singapore on Jan 23 last year, Singapore posted 0 per cent growth in GDP in the first quarter, followed by contractions in the following three quarters.

Last year, the economy shrunk by 5.4 per cent, Singapore’s first annual contraction since 2001 and its worst recession since independence.

“The expansion is a strong signal that our economy is slowly but surely recovering from the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 last year,” said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing in a Facebook post after the data was released.

“While we are cautiously optimistic, many downside risks remain which we will have to pay close attention to,” he added.

READ: Singapore maintains 2021 GDP forecast as economy contracts 5.4% last year

Singapore’s economy rose on the back of strong manufacturing activity.

The sector grew 7.5 per cent year-on-year, supported by output expansions in the electronics, precision engineering, chemicals and biomedical manufacturing clusters.

The construction sector continued to contract, albeit at a slower rate, as activity in the private and public sectors picked up.

The sector shrank by 20.2 per cent in the first quarter, compared with the 27.4 per cent decline in the fourth quarter of 2020.

IN FOCUS: After COVID-19, where are the Singapore economy, workforce headed?

Among the services sectors, the wholesale and retail trade as well as transportation and storage trade sectors shrank by 4.1 per cent in the first quarter. 

A “continued weakness” in the transportation and storage sector was primarily caused by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting air, water and land transport segments. This was mitigated by the expansion in wholesale and retail trade sectors.

The information and communications, finance and insurance, as well as professional services sectors collectively grew by 3.7 per cent in the first quarter, faster than the 1.4 per cent expansion in the preceding quarter.

“Growth was supported by healthy expansions in the information and communications and finance and insurance sectors, even as the professional services sector contracted,” said MTI.

Contraction in the professional services sector was due in part to weak economic activity in the region, as well as “sluggish” domestic construction activity, which had weighed on the architectural and engineering segment of the sector, the ministry added.

The remaining group of sectors – accommodation and food services, real estate, administrative and support services and other services industries – contracted by 3.9 per cent. All sectors within the group shrank, except for accommodation, as activities continued to be weighed down by COVID-19 safe management measures.

Singapore’s first-quarter performance puts it among the first few Asian economies to turn the corner to positive year-on-year GDP growth, said Mr Prakash Sakpal, senior economist for Asia at ING.

In the second quarter, Singapore can expect to see a “significant jump” in GDP growth due to the sharp plunge of activity during the “circuit breaker” period last year, said Mr Sakpal. This will taper down over the second half of the year.

ING has forecast that Singapore’s second-quarter GDP may rise 14.2 per cent year-on-year, before settling at 4.9 per cent for the whole year.

In his Facebook post, Mr Chan said that it is “clearer than ever” that Singapore’s post-COVID-19 economy “will be a very different one”.

“The path of the pandemic remains uncertain with the emergence of new variants and the uneven global roll out of vaccine deployment,” said Mr Chan.

“The multilateral trading system remains under stress as countries prioritise unilateral trade measures in order to protect domestic interests. Our economic recovery will also be uneven with sectors such as aviation and tourism facing a protracted recovery due to travel restrictions globally,” he added.

READ: MAS leaves monetary policy unchanged amid COVID-19 uncertainties, low inflation

MTI will release the preliminary GDP estimates for the first quarter of 2021 next month.

Phase 3 of Singapore’s reopening started on Dec 28 last year, with permitted social gathering sizes expanded from five to eight.

Capacity limits at public places, such as shopping malls, attractions and places of worship, were also eased.

The country has also started its roll-out of two COVID-19 vaccines – made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – while a third by Sinovac is currently under review.

As of Apr 14, about 1.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered, according to the Ministry of Health’s website. More than 1.1 million people have received at least one dose, and 535,864 have received their second dose and completed the full vaccination regimen.

The Government plans to invite people under the age of 45 to book slots from June for their COVID-19 vaccinations. The aim is to complete the vaccination programme as scheduled by end-2021.

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India’s new COVID-19 infections hit record as Hindu devotees immerse in Ganges

AHMEDABAD, India: India’s new COVID-19 infections hit a record on Wednesday (Apr 14), as crowds of pilgrims gathered for a religious festival despite oxygen shortages in hospitals and strict curbs in other areas.

The country reported 184,372 cases in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed, taking total infections to 13.9 million. Deaths rose by 1,027, to a toll of 172,085.

Still, hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus gathered to bathe in the Ganges river on Wednesday, the third key day of the weeks-long Kumbh Mela – or pitcher festival.

Sanjay Gunjyal, the inspector general of police at the festival, said around 650,000 people had bathed on Wednesday morning.

“People are being fined for not following social distancing in non crowded ghats (bathing areas), but it is very hard to fine people in the main ghats, which are very crowded,” he said.

READ: India, overwhelmed by COVID-19 surge, fast-tracks approval for foreign vaccines

READ: India’s Maharashtra state battles huge COVID-19 vaccine shortages

There was little evidence of social distancing or mask-wearing, according to a Reuters witness.

More than a thousand cases have been reported in Haridwar district in the last two days, according to government data.

From reporting less than 10,000 cases per day earlier this year, India has been the world’s worst-hit country since Apr 2 by new daily cases, with the government blaming a widespread failure to heed curbs on movement and social interaction.

India’s richest state Maharashtra, the epicentre of the national second wave and which accounts for about a quarter of the country’s cases, is due to impose stringent restrictions from Wednesday to try to contain the spread.

Elsewhere, overstretched private hospitals are turning patients away, placing an increasing burden on government facilities.

READ: India overtakes Brazil as world’s second worst-hit country by COVID-19

In the western state of Gujurat, local media showed a long queue of ambulances waiting outside Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, with some patients being treated there while they waited.

A hospital source, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to speak publicly, said this was because a lot of private hospitals were short of oxygen and were sending their patients to the public hospital.

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Sri Lanka issues health guidelines for Ramadan related activities in Mosques

Colombo, April 13 ( – The Ministry of Health has issued a circular to ensure that the health guidelines are followed during the month of Ramadan beginning on the 14th of April in Sri Lanka.

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Aerodyne and Federation of Malaysian State Skills Development Centre Work Together on National Talent Initiative

  • Expected to hit 2k youths in 2 years, first batch of 200 trainees across five states
  • Developing young talent equipped with knowledge and capabilities are critical

Aerodyne Group, a DT3 (Drone Tech, Data Tech, and Digital Transformation) drone-based global enterprise solutions provider and the Federation of Malaysian State Skills Development Centre (FMSDC) announced an MOU today to collaborate on a national talent initiative to develop up to 2,000 youth for the drone and advanced data technology industry.

Aerodyne, which has a presence in 35 countries, will provide technology support, Drones-as-a-Service and Software-as-a-Service as well as digital transformation subject matter experts in each state in Malaysia with a focus on talent development and driving transformation in various industries.

With this partnership, FMSDC will be able to offer cutting edge DT3 technology to more than 1,000 of its industry members across Malaysia. Present at the signing ceremony at Aerodyne’s campus in Cyberjaya was Selangor Menteri Besar, Amirudin Shari.

FMSDC which consists of 13 State Skills Development Centres aims to develop the nation’s skilled talent pool by providing industry led technical training and education to meet local industry demand.

Muhamed Ali, Chairman of FMSDC said, “The core reason of the State Skills Development Centres’ existence are the industries at each locality that play the role of initiating and developing business policies, type of technical courses or training the industries require, development of modules and the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) development.

“For the year 2021, this collaboration aims to certify more than 200 fresh and unemployed graduates with industrial skills and competencies from Aerodyne itself in the area of drone technology.

“The initiative is in line with the government’s efforts to nurture and develop new talent to propel Malaysia into becoming a high-income nation and also boost youth participation in high-income employments especially in Industrial Revolution 4.0 segments, in line with SPV2030 agenda.

“Developing young talent equipped with knowledge and capabilities are critical to bring forward-looking approaches and lead the way in sustaining business in a highly competitive and ever-changing global economic landscape”.

Aerodyne’s founder and Group CEO, Kamarul A Muhamed said, “The global drone market is anticipated to reach US$25 billion by the end of 2023 witnessing a compound annual growth rate of 18.2% owing to the significant use of drones in various sectors. As such, we can forsee an attendant demand for human resources such as pilots, data analysts and programmers to support the projected industry boom. Our strategic partnership with FMSDC is an exciting way to upskill Malaysian talent not only for the local market but also global as well.”

The first batch of 200 trainees across 5 states will take 6 months and be completed by December 2020.

Persekutuan Pusat Pembangunan Kemahiran Malaysia or the FMSDC was established in 1999 under the Societies Act 1966. Today, FMSDC consists of 13 (thirteen) State Skill Development Centres (SDC) nationwide with more than 600,000 trainees benefiting from its various upskilling/reskilling programs. 

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