LONDON: With the 200th anniversary of the founding of modern Singapore coming up in 2019, Singapore and the United Kingdom will commemorate the bicentennial with a “new and substantive partnership”.
This was discussed during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s first formal bilateral meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday (Apr 19).
Mr Lee is in London for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which formally opened on Thursday.
Details of the partnership are not yet clear, but the key idea behind it is to do something significant to mark the bicentennial.
"CONTINUITY" DESPITE BREXIT
During the meeting, both leaders agreed that the “continuity approach” would provide certainty in the lead up to the UK's impending withdrawal from the European Union, according to Singapore's Prime Minister’s Office.
This means that all external agreements EU signed with others will continue to apply to the UK during the implementation period - a transition period towards Brexit that is to last until December 2020.
They concurred that when ratified, the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement would be a good baseline for future bilateral trade relations, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Negotiations on the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which is the first trade deal to be implemented between the European Union and an ASEAN member state, concluded in October 2014.
The EU and Singapore have committed to work together towards the ratification of the deal by the end of this year. It is expected to be sent this month to the Council, and thereafter to the European Parliament for approval.
The EU’s top court had ruled last May that for the FTA to fully come into force, it needs approval from the 38 national and sub-national parliaments of the 28 member states in the regional bloc.
PM Lee also welcomed the UK’s intention to strengthen its engagement with ASEAN, as well as doing more together to support the development of Commonwealth member states, including the rendering of technical assistance.
LONDON: Protectionism will damage the multilateral system of trade and investments, and result in strategic rivalry between great powers that can destabilise the world, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) on Thursday (Apr 19).
That is why it is important for like-minded countries, like those in the Commonwealth, to work together to promote trade and investment, he added.
Mr Lee was addressing leaders from 53 Commonwealth states at an executive session focused on free trade, on the second day of CHOGM in London.
Discussions to encourage free trade is timely, Mr Lee said, especially as the global mood shifts towards protectionism.
An example is the potential trade war brewing between the United States and China, with the former slapping unilateral tariffs on steel and aluminium imports targeted at the latter. Beijing has retaliated.
But Mr Lee noted on Thursday that while countries have their own set of national interests and security concerns to address, they must not become a disguised form of protectionism - a balance must be struck, he said.
Restricting investments can bring about distrust and rivalry, which will result in tit-for-tat actions.
A multilateral approach, on the other hand, is “ideal”, Mr Lee said, because it sets uniform and universal rules of trade, balances the benefits and concerns of participating countries, and provides more scope for trade-offs and win-win solutions.
But he understood the difficulty of reaching multilateral agreements, drawing the example of the failed 2001 Doha Round.
The Doha Round had an ambitious and broad agenda to free up trade and lower trade barriers in agriculture, services and manufactured goods between all members of the World Trade Organisation. Its death was long drawn out because countries were not willing to make concessions. Talks were put to rest after 14 years.
This is why many countries have chosen to pursue regional free trade agreements, said Mr Lee. This includes the recently concluded Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership which is currently being negotiated.
For Commonwealth members, Mr Lee said they can continue to tap on the “Commonwealth advantage”. Countries share similar regulatory systems, an operating language and business environments.
They also have a common interest in upholding the multilateral trading system, and a common view that a world of greater interdependence is better than one that is locked in trade wars and rivalling blocs, he added.
“Even before the WTO was established, there was a system of 'imperial preferences' amongst Commonwealth countries," Mr Lee noted.
“Commonwealth countries should make the most of this shared outlook to promote trade among ourselves," he added.
GOVERNMENTS CANNOT TACKLE CLIMATE CHANGE ALONE: PM LEE
Mr Lee also said that Singapore remains committed to helping its Commonwealth counterparts to pursue their United Nations Sustainable Development goals, while working towards meeting its own set of goals.
Addressing leaders at a closed-door CHOGM meeting focused on climate change, he listed some of Singapore’s successes and its efforts to be as green as possible.
For instance, the country is now among the world’s top 20 most carbon-efficient after it made the switch to natural gas, which generates nearly all of the island’s electricity. This is despite the fact that Singapore does not produce green alternatives, and access to affordable and clean energy remains a challenge.
Mr Lee also reaffirmed Singapore’s commitment to address climate change. This includes reducing the country’s emissions intensity by 2030, designating 2018 as the Year of Climate Action, and the implementation of a carbon tax from next year.
But governments cannot deal with climate change alone, Mr Lee noted. To that end, Singapore has done much with other countries, like promoting science and innovation with Commonwealth nations to find creative solutions and technological breakthroughs.
SINGAPORE: Eighteen beauty products found to contain potent undeclared ingredients, including high levels of mercury, have been recalled by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).
Some of these products contained mercury exceeding the level permitted by more than 27,000 times, while others contained potent ingredients like hydroquinone and tretinoin, HSA said in a news release on Friday (Apr 20).
Mercury is a "toxic heavy metal" prohibited for use in cosmetics, and can lead to rashes, skin discolouration and blotching, HSA warned. Long-term exposure to high levels of mercury can also cause damage to the kidneys, as well as digestive and nervous systems.
Hydroquinone and tretinoin are potent ingredients used in Western prescription medicines for treatment of skin conditions. Inappropriate use can result in changes in skin colour and adverse skin reactions like rashes, redness, burning and peeling, it added.
The products are:
Stores have been ordered to recall the affected products, which claimed to "improve complexion" and "even out skin tone", while online sales platforms have been told to remove their product listings, said HSA.
Members of the public are advised to stop using the products immediately and to discard them.
"Be cautious when purchasing cosmetic products online or from unfamiliar sources, even if they are recommended by friends or relatives," said HSA. "You cannot be certain what these products contain, and where and how they were made. It is advisable to buy such products from reliable and reputable sources such as registered pharmacies or established retail stores, and their respective e-commerce platforms."
HSA also warned consumers to be wary of products that "promise quick and miraculous results or carry exaggerated claims such as skin whitening within a short period of time".
"Such products may contain prescription medicines which should only be used under medical supervision, or contain dangerously high levels of toxic substances such as mercury that may harm you," it added.
The authority also said that those who supply illegal health products face up to three years' jail and a fine of up to S$100,000.
HSA's findings were the result of regular product quality surveillance activities where health products marketed locally are sampled for testing, it said.
SINGAPORE: ComfortDelGro has acquired London taxi circuit operator Dial-a-Cab's business and assets for £1.2 million (S$2.2 million), the company announced on Thursday (Apr 19).
The deal was undertaken by ComfortDelGro's wholly owned subsidiary in the UK CityFleet Networks.
ComfortDelGro's managing director and group CEO Yang Ban Seng said the acquisition will "enable the Group to grow and strengthen its position as the leading taxi circuit operator in London through an expansion of the customer and driver base".
Radio taxi circuits are operators of a door-to-door transportation service that uses London's black cabs.
Currently, ComfortDelGro is the largest taxi circuit operator in London with around 1,900 London taxis. The acquisition will add about 1,100 black cabs to bring the total fleet to 3,000.
Mr Yang also added that London Councils and Transport for London recently awarded CityFleet the Taxicard and Dial-A-Ride contract for another three years, with an option for a fourth.
Taxicard is the largest public sector day-to-day transport service in London for passengers with serious mobility impairments or who are severely sight impaired.
CityFleet has held this contract over several decades through its taxi subsidiary Computer Cab.
SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced on Thursday (Apr 19) it will extend its title sponsorship of the Formula 1 (F1) Singapore Grand Prix (Singapore GP) for two more years until 2019.
SIA first signed as title sponsor in 2014, initially for two years, and subsequently extended that for the 2016 and 2017 races.
SIA CEO Goh Choon Pong said in a joint release with Singapore GP that the national airline carrier is "thrilled" to continue as title sponsor and looks forward to showcasing what it deemed the "highlight of Singapore's sporting calendar".
Singapore GP chairman, Mr Teo Hock Seng, said its partnership with SIA has been a "key component in the success of the night race".
This year's Singapore GP will be held from Sep 14 to Sep 16 at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
Singapore's only night race was extended for another four years until 2021 in September last year.
SINGAPORE: Robots in Singapore have completed a task many humans dread: Assembling flat-packed IKEA furniture.
Sifting through pages of instructions and a jumble of screws and bolts to build the low-cost Swedish furniture may soon be a thing of the past given advances in technology, say researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
The scientists spent three years programming the robot - made of arms, grippers, sensors and 3D cameras - which assembled the frame of an IKEA dining chair in around 20 minutes.
They say it may not be long before such robots can fully assemble a piece of furniture from a manual, verbal instruction or by just looking at an image of the finished item.
"We have achieved the low-level capability to teach the robot 'how to do it' and then in the next five to 10 years, high-level reasoning - the 'what to do' - could be done too," one of the researchers Quang-Cuong Pham told reporters.
Pham said the team at NTU were looking to work with artificial intelligence experts to try and hone the process.
Cindy Andersen, global business area manager of kitchen and dining at IKEA, told reporters: "It's interesting to see an example of how robots could potentially contribute to our vision of creating a better everyday life for many people.
"We are very positive about embracing new technology."
Singapore has been pushing businesses to invest in automation and robotics to boost productivity. Some restaurants and hotels in the country use robots to deliver food to customers and collect used plates and cutlery.
SINGAPORE: SMRT chief Desmond Kuek is stepping down and making way for senior civil servant and former chief of defence force Neo Kian Hong, the company confirmed on Wednesday (Apr 18).
The appointment will take effect on Aug 1.
Mr Kuek, 54, also a former chief of defence force, will be bowing out after five-and-a-half years at the helm of the beleaguered transport company.
“It has been my privilege to have served alongside a most professional and dedicated team in SMRT, and to have led the company through this critical period of organisational transformation and system renewal," he said in a press release.
"While we have been through challenging times, I firmly believe the company is well-placed for better journeys ahead, and I see this as a timely juncture to hand over to a new leadership team to take the company to its next level.”
Mr Neo, who is also 54, is currently the Permanent Secretary for Defence Development. He succeeded Mr Kuek as the chief of defence force in 2010.
He said of his appointment: "I am conscious that there will be challenges ahead. I know the public expects safe and reliable train services. I will work very hard to meet their expectations."
After leaving the military in 2013, Mr Neo was appointed Permanent Secretary for Education Development at the Ministry of Education before joining the Defence Ministry last year.
He was also appointed a non-executive director of Singapore Technologies Engineering last June.
PERSONNEL CHANGES AT SMRT
The announcement comes less than three months after rumours that Mr Kuek was due to step down, and a series of personnel changes at SMRT including the departure of former vice-president for corporate communications Patrick Nathan and the appointment of new executive officers for rail operations and maintenance.
Mr Neo takes over at SMRT after recent setbacks including a train collision at Joo Koon MRT station, and the flooding of a train tunnel near Bishan station last year.
However, the transport operator said in its annual review that there were fewer train delays in 2017 and set ambitious targets for improving rail reliability amid ongoing works to refurbish its ageing infrastructure.
Mr Kuek became the president and group CEO of SMRT in October 2012 after the company came under fire for major train breakdowns in 2011.
He took the formerly listed company private in 2016 and oversaw the ongoing refurbishment of its ageing infrastructure.
During his tenure, more major disruptions shook public confidence in the transport operator but rail performance has improved, according to SMRT's 2017 annual review.
SMRT has set the target of achieving 1 million mean-kilometre between failure, a measure of rail reliability, by 2020.
SINGAPORE: An elderly woman was left with a cut on the nose and bruises on her hip and leg after she was "knocked down" by an electric scooter rider, says her daughter, who is appealing for witnesses to the accident to come forward.
The incident, which took place on Tuesday (Apr 17) afternoon at Blk 538 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, caused both the rider and 65-year-old Mdm Lee to fall onto the ground, leaving her injured, said a Facebook post by her daughter, Ms Sharon Sim.
Madam Lee was going to pick up her granddaughter from the childcare centre and was meeting her husband, Mr Edwin Sim, downstairs.
She was walking out of the lift when the e-scooter hit her from behind, Ms Sim said.
Five Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students who were in the area bought plasters from a nearby shop and helped Madam Lee by applying one on her wound.
"Mum grabbed (the) rider to prevent him from escaping but he rode away quickly," Ms Sim said in the post on Tuesday evening. "Dad gave chase and last saw rider riding towards (the) junction of Avenue 3 where Ang Mo Kio Police Station is located."
The students asked Madam Lee if she would like to make a police report but Madam Lee refused as she wanted to pick her granddaughter, Ms Sim told reporters, calling the students "very helpful".
She was "shaken" by the incident and her blood pressure has "spiked", said Ms Sim, who only found out about the incident when her parents picked her up from work later.
Ms Sim said in her post that the male rider was wearing a full face helmet, a red and black t-shirt and three-quarter length jeans. They have filed a police report, she said.
SINGAPORE: Demand for rockmelons has fallen sharply in Singapore following a recent listeria infection outbreak in Australia, with some suppliers reporting a fall in sales of between 50 and 90 per cent.
Four fruit suppliers reporters spoke to said that the large drop in demand for the fruit comes after affected batches were found to have been sold in Singapore and subsequently recalled by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).
Sales have dropped about 90 per cent, said director of FS Fruity Theresa Fong. Ms Fong estimated that she was selling about 60 cartons per week before news about the AVA recall came out. She barely sells two now.
She said that while there are rockmelons available in Indonesia and Japan, the ones from Australia, a major exporter of the fruit, are preferred by Singaporeans due to their taste.
“Customers are still very worried. Many of them are still not buying,” she said.
The outbreak killed seven people and caused one miscarriage between Jan 17 and Apr 6, the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Monday said two patients in Singapore had been infected with a listeria strain similar to the outbreak in Australia tied to rockmelons. One of them recovered, while the other died due to unrelated reasons, the ministry said.
AVA has said it worked closely with importers and retailers to verify the source of imported rockmelon consignments from Australia, and all consignments of the fruit from the affected grower have been recalled and destroyed.
MINDSET WILL TAKE TIME TO CHANGE
MOH also said there is "no further public health risk from the Australia outbreak as the risks have been mitigated through the recall of the implicated consignments".
Still, storekeeper at Kian Seng Yong Import & Export Kelifu Sea believes it will take more than a month for consumers to start eating rockmelon again.
He now sells less than 50 cartons a week, less than half of the 100 previously.
Mr Tan Yong Xiang from supplier Ever-Shine said that while he used to sell small quantities of rockmelons – 10 to 20 cartons per week – he has had “no sales” for the past month.
The sellers said that rockmelons do not count for a big portion of their sales - about five per cent.
Ms Fong, who supplies rockmelons to restaurants and offices and also sells cut fruit, said she has replaced them with hami melons from Malaysia.
"The colour is lighter, and the sweetness is lower, but I think it's better because people are worried," she said.
The first litigation fallout from a dispute over alleged mass poaching of agents has surfaced in the High Court, with life insurer Prudential Assurance suing its former senior financial services manager, Mr Peter Tan Shou Yi.
The Singapore company is accusing Mr Tan, 53, of getting more than 230 agents and agency leaders to quit and move to rival insurer Aviva Financial Advisers.
Mr Tan, while working at Prudential, had been in charge of a group known as Peter Tan Organisation (PTO), which had about 500 agents and agency leaders.
Prudential claims Mr Tan made various representations and remarks to them on various occasions in May and June 2016 that allegedly caused them to leave.
It added that they left when he was still contracted as an agent and agency leader of Prudential.
Mr Tan, represented by lawyers from TSMP Corporation led by Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi, is contesting the claims.
Meanwhile, a preliminary issue on audio recordings of the alleged soliciting of the agents has come before the court.
Prudential's lawyers from Rajah & Tann, led by Mr K. Muralidharan Pillai, had sought to ascertain from Mr Tan if he was the person speaking in the recordings and following objections, this became an issue for the court to decide.
The recordings were allegedly his discussions with Prudential agents and agency leaders at certain meetings, during which he is said to have asked them to leave the firm. Mr Tan's lawyers are challenging the authenticity of the recordings, among other things.
Their arguments were heard by High Court assistant registrar Justin Yeo, who gave his judgment grounds last week. Mr Yeo said he accepted that the recordings' authenticity will be fiercely fought at the trial but the fact that it is in dispute is "not of itself a bar" for the question sought in the interrogatories to be answered by Mr Tan.
"What he has to do is to respond factually, to the best of his knowledge... For instance, if he honestly believes the voice to be his but that his speech had been manipulated to misrepresent what had actually transpired, it is open to him to qualify his response accordingly."
Interrogatories are questions raised that can significantly reduce costs and help in the fair disposal of the matter.
Mr Yeo, however, disallowed a set of secondary queries Prudential wanted Mr Tan to answer. He ruled that they were not necessary at this stage or to save costs.
SC Thio yesterday said his team is studying the judgment grounds when asked if he would appeal.
Mr Tan, who holds five professional degrees and qualifications, has more than 20 companies across Asia, according to his website.
He also, among other things, started a $1 million PTO Endowment Fund at the School of Economics in Singapore Management University for needy students, as well as supported the Yellow Ribbon Project by helping offenders in Changi Prison learn basic skills in logistics management.