Liberalisation of aviation sector can create more jobs, says Singapore minister Vivian Balakrishnan

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New Delhi: Singapore foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Tuesday urged India to boldly liberalise some sectors of the Indian economy like aviation that would help the domestic tourism industry boom as well as aid Asia’s third largest economy.

Balakrishnan, who on Tuesday chaired the India-Singapore Joint Commission Meet along with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj, also lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to get a large number of people to use electronic payment systems.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) lobby group, Balakrishnan also advocated a “global multilateral rules based order based on global economic integration and openness” with US, China and India emerging as the most influential countries in the world in the future.

According to Balakrishnan, liberalisation of India’s aviation sector could generate many more jobs than the manufacturing sector, given that this would entail creating an entire ecosystem of airports, infrastructure, tourism and business services.

“A more liberal air services regime will create an entire ecosystem of airports, infrastructure, tourism and business services industry,” Balakrishnan said.

The Narendra Modi government has cleared the disinvestment of Air India with Tata group and IndiGo, the largest airline in India that is owned by InterGlobe Aviation Pvt. Ltd, expressing interest in the airline. In 2000, Tata group and Singapore Airlines expressed their interest to buy up to 40% in Air India. In 2013, after a meeting with then aviation minister, then group chairman Ratan Tata said the Tata group would be interested in buying a stake in Air India if the government were to privatise the airline. This, however, didn’t happen. The Tata group and Singapore Airlines launched Vistara in 2015, which will start international flights next year.

Pointing out that many international studies had shown that India was one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world, Balakrishnan said: “When I talk to my Indian friends here, I tell them that the interests of the state outweigh the interests of the state airline.”

Comparing Singaporean and Indian tourist figures and numbers, the Singapore foreign minister said that his country with a population of 5.5 million had received more than 16 million tourists a year. In contrast, India with its size, population and history received only half that number of tourists.

On stress laid on digital payments as opposed to cash transactions, Balakrishnan made a case for the intangible aspects of digital economy, saying the steps taken by the Modi government would enhance transparency.

“If you go digital, you reduce human interventions in transactions,” he said.

“It reduces licence raj and even the possibility of corruption. You know as well as I do, this is why prime minister Modi launched demonetisation, why he has launched a nationwide electronic identification system, the Aadhaar,” Balakrishnan said.

“It is not just going digital for digital sake, but the fact that it completely transforms the way transactions are executed,” he said, while making suggestions on linking of Indian and Singaporean electronic payment systems.

Speaking about China, its rise and tensions with countries like the US and also India, Balakrishnan said he hoped “there will be a rules based multilateral order. We hope that there will be a world where global value chains, connectivity and digitalisation will make us more interdependent. Because the converse model is a world of separate and rival blocs, competing in zero sum games… We prefer the former model, connect, interconnect, interdependent and collaborative world. That is our (Singapore’s) wish, we (Singapore) have no say. We hope therefore that China, the US and ultimately India… have a modus vivendi that is based not on rival blocs and spheres of influence but a global multilateral rules based world order based on economic integration … and a combination of collaboration and competition—that would be a golden age.”