Asian countries need joint innovation to face challenges

Asian countries, particularly those in Southeast Asia, should focus on collaborating in areas where they are weak to remain competitive in innovation, a Singapore government agency said Monday.

Without such focus, no matter how competitive an economy is, it can fall behind as businesses look to innovate and grow right where the markets are, said Lim Siong-Guan, chairman of the Economic Development Board, tasked with attracting investments and promoting innovation in the city-state.

Singapore wants to be at the top end of the market, but the costs of doing business are going up. Businesses will want to be in markets where they can innovate and make money, Lim said.

"We take that as a reality of life. Some of the biggest projects we've lost are to developed countries such as Germany and the United States. So we try to link up with (countries such as) Vietnam and Indonesia so investors can do their high-end work in Singapore and low-end work in Vietnam or Indonesia," he said.

Lim said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, which groups 10 countries in the region, has made a beginning in such collaborative work, but still has a long way to go.

"Governments need to have a very clear view on how to make that point clear. In the case of ASEAN, it is good that there are some deadlines on (the need to) work together," he said.

ASEAN countries have signed several agreements on improving market access among one another and to increase collaboration in the fields of technology and financial services.

But there is a further need for conviction and continuous dialogue, Lim said.

"We are not exactly there, but we'll get there. It is not a lack of desire to do it, but in some cases there is a lack of full conviction," he said.