US ambassador to Singapore

An Interview with Ambassador Steven J. Green
U.S. Ambassador to Singapore feels fortunate to have the honor of talking this month with U.S. Ambassador to Singapore, Steven J. Green.  Ambassador Green who has now been in his post for much of the current Administration has guided U.S. relations with Singapore through a critical period that included the Asian Financial Crisis.  Following are Ambassador Green’s responses to our questions:

Q 1: How has Singapore responded to the Asian financial crisis and do you believe the changes it has made will ultimately help or hurt Singapore's comparative advantage as a site for U.S. business and U.S. exports?

A. Singapore responded to the crisis by taking measures to maintain its economic competitiveness, in light of the relative appreciation of the Singapore dollar vis-a-vis its neighbors and sharply reduced regional demand. Among the key measures taken were:

  • Reduction of overall business cost by over 15% in terms of wage and pension cuts lower taxes and property prices.
  • Diversification of exports to non-Asian markets, such as Europe.
  • Continuing efforts to liberalize and develop the financial services sector.
  • Starting efforts to restructure the economy to focus on knowledge-based industries.
All these measures will make Singapore even more attractive to U.S. exporters and investors. In particular, U.S. companies in the fields of banking and finance, and information technology will be able to increase their service exports to Singapore as well as expand their presence here. U.S. manufacturers in Singapore have seen their costs reduced as well.

Q 2: Has political instability in Indonesia and the Malaysian government's -decision to further restrict their financial markets, hurt or helped Singapore?

A. Generally speaking, the political crisis in Indonesia has hurt Singapore because it has severely damaged one of Singapore's most important markets in the region. Singapore's trade with Indonesia has fallen sharply as a result of the sharp contraction of Indonesia's 
economy last year. The sharp drop in Indonesian visitor arrivals to Singapore has affected the local retail and services market. Singapore's direct and indirect investments in Indonesia have also been affected, as evidenced in higher non-performing loans and generally lower returns on investments.

As for the impact of Malaysian capital controls on Singapore, this is a bit more complicated to assess. Instability in Indonesia and economic problems in Malaysia have negatively impacted Singapore's economy.  To the extent that the Malaysian economy has stabilized for a variety of reasons, this has benefited Singapore exporters to, and investors in, Malaysia.

Q.3. Singapore has become a relatively high wage country by Asian standards. In this high wage environment, what types of businesses still see Singapore as an attractive venue for investment?

A. The businesses that see Singapore as an attractive investment location are the kinds of businesses Singapore wants to attract:  knowledge-based industries. Singapore also knows it needs to maintain its competitiveness in the region. That's why Singapore cut business costs last year to the extent that per unit business costs are down almost 20% this year from a 
year ago.

Best service industry investment prospects are in financial services, business services, warehousing and logistics. One quarter of the Singapore economy is still in manufacturing. High end electronics and petrochemicals remain good manufacturing investment possibilities.

Q 4. You come from a business background and were instrumental in turning around several major household names, such as Samsonite and Culligan Water. Given that background and now your many years experience as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore, how good of a grade would you give the U.S. government in promoting sales of smaller U.S. companies abroad?  Further, could you explain how things could be improved?

A. We're working hard but I believe there could be improvement in our overall effort.  The Commerce Department's Commercial Service and the Agriculture Department's Foreign Agricultural Service spend much of their time and effort helping American small and medium size enterprises (SME's) export. But there is much more that could - and should - be done 
by these two Departments and other government agencies. We are working hard to improve things ourselves, as the answer to the following question illustrates.

Q 5. We understand the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is considering a pilot program to improve assistance to small and medium size U.S. companies desiring to export to Singapore. Can you tell us what this pilot program will entail and how it will help SME's export to Asia?

A. This program, SesaME, has been in operation since early this year. It is designed to inform and encourage American SME's to look at exporting to Singapore and through Singapore to the rest of Southeast Asia. SesaME will keep SME's current on market opportunities and link them to services that can find them agents, distributors or joint venture partners. SesaME is supported by major Singapore and American public and private business organizations. More information is available on the Commercial Service's website,, or e-mail

Q 6. Based on your experience in Singapore and your business background, are there particular fields where SME's can win sales without a formal office in Singapore or lots of expensive investment?

A. Actually almost any field is open to American SME's. A better question is what fields are not open to American companies. There are very few if any. There are literally thousand's of Singapore SME's already representing American products in the Singapore and regional markets. We know they are eager indeed to handle more product lines and business.  Much if not most of America's US$16 billion in exports to Singapore are already shipped by companies without Singapore offices.

Q 7. During the recent ASEAN Ambassador's Tour to the U.S., you spoke very eloquently about how the Internet was changing Asia and how the Internet offered advantages to countries with relatively small but highly educated and highly computer literate populations. Can you give us your views on how the Internet is changing Asian business and what recent trends hold for Singapore?

A. The Internet is becoming a true paradigm shift for those SME's willing to take advantage of it. As Singapore and regional businesses become more internet-connected and e-commerce oriented, size will no longer matter for American businesses that want to sell into the region. SME goods and services can be as visible as larger companies' products - and just as easy to order and ship. UPS and Fedex can deliver quickly just about anywhere these days at competitive rates. Singapore, by the way, has invested very heavily in warehousing and logistics. There are many Singapore and foreign companies offering logistics support, allowing an SME to distribute from Singapore to the region without the SME needing its own distribution operation.

Q 8. (Do the computer and Internet penetration figures) we see indicate that Asia is breaking up into a have and have-not block of countries based on access to the new technologies.  Does this have implications for American investment?

A. Singapore's personal computer penetration rate is about the same as the U.S. Internet penetration is not as high, but growing rapidly. Other countries in the region are, as you have noted, behind, although levels vary and the business community is more connected than rural areas. Nevertheless, this is another reason for American SME's to consider Singapore as their gateway to the region. Singapore is already a "wired island."  E-commerce is up, running and growing.  American SME's can do business electronically now with Singapore SME's, who, in turn, can help them enter the regional market.

Interviewer:  Ambassador Green, again thank you for your as usual thought provoking insight.

About the Interviewer:  

Christopher W. Runckel, a former senior US diplomat who served in many counties in Asia, is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark Law School. He served as Deputy General Counsel of President Gerald Ford’s Presidential Clemency Board. Mr. Runckel is the principal and founder of Runckel & Associates, a Portland, Oregon based consulting company that assists businesses expand business opportunities in Asia. (

Until April of 1999, Mr. Runckel was Minister-Counselor of the US Embassy in Beijing, China. Mr. Runckel lived and worked in Thailand for over six years. He was the first permanently assigned U.S. diplomat to return to Vietnam after the Vietnam War. In 1997, he was awarded the U.S. Department of States highest award for service, the Distinguished Honor Award, for his contribution to improving U.S.-Vietnam relations. Mr. Runckel is one of only two non-Ambassadors to receive this award in the 200-year history of the U.S. diplomatic service.

Copyright, 2005 © Runckel & Associates

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