SINGAPORE (AFP) – Singapore’s trade-sensitive economy grew at a slower-than-expected rate of 2.8 per cent in 2014 as the city-state cut its reliance on foreign workers, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Wednesday.
The slowing growth was attributed in particular to tougher rules on foreign workers stemming from citizens’ complaints about overcrowding, a tighter job market and other impacts of immigration.
“Our economy has performed moderately well in 2014. Growth was 2.8 per cent,” Lee said in his New Year message released to the media.
In its last forecast in November, the government predicted growth of three per cent for 2014.
“Our growth will be slower than we are used to,” he continued.
“One reason for this is that we have been tightening polices, including on foreign workers, to get our economy onto a path of sustainable, productivity-driven growth.”
The 62-year-old premier expressed concern over “disappointing” productivity growth.
In recent years, authorities have been phasing in measures to boost the productivity of Singaporeans while tightening the influx of foreign labour and the granting of permanent residency status.
Concerns over immigration made it a hot-button issue on the affluent but space-constricted island.
The discontent spilled into the 2011 general elections when Lee’s People’s Action Party garnered its lowest-ever vote count after more than 50 years in power, and analysts say it remains a key issue for the next election, which must be held before January 2017.
According to official statistics, over 29 per cent of Singapore’s population of 5.47 million is comprised of “non-residents” – those working, studying or living in the country but not granted permanent residency.
In his message Wednesday, Lee also warned of global uncertainties, adding that events this year including air tragedies in Asia, the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, extremism in the Middle East and the Ukraine crisis were reminders that “stability, safety and security are precious”.
“The road ahead appears daunting: Intense competition and greater inequality because of globalisation and technological advances, security threats from extremist terrorism, new pandemics are just some of the challenges,” he said.
Singapore, which became a sovereign state in 1965 after a brief union with Malaysia following the end of British colonial rule, celebrates its 50th year of independence in 2015.