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The Edge Singapore1/10/2020 07:00 AM GMT+08  • 7 min read
SINGAPORE (Jan 10): "We will walk this journey together with you. This government will always have your back." — Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing, on concerns that  foreigners are taking away better-paying jobs from Singaporea
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SINGAPORE (Jan 10): "We will walk this journey together with you. This government will always have your back." — Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing, on concerns that foreigners are taking away better-paying jobs from Singaporeans

China’s mystery pneumonia outbreak linked to novel coronavirus

A mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has sickened dozens in central China is linked to a previously unidentified coronavirus, China Central Television (CCTV) said.

Further research is needed on the virus, which is different to the coronavirus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), CCTV said, citing scientists’ early findings. The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Jan 9 that a novel virus may be the cause of the outbreak in Wuhan.

Scientists have speculated for days that a novel coronavirus might have caused the Wuhan outbreak as officials there ruled out other coronaviruses — including SARS and MERSCoV — as well as influenza, avian influenza and adenovirus.

The WHO said that more comprehensive information is needed to positively identify the pathogen. The virus does not transmit readily between people, the WHO said, citing Chinese authorities.

Dozens of people have been hospitalized in Wuhan since the first patient developed symptoms on Dec 12 last year. Some patients worked at a seafood market where birds, snakes and rabbit organs were reportedly sold.

Japan fires back at Ghosn, stoking war of words over trial

Japan battled to restore its image on Jan 9 after former auto executive Carlos Ghosn blasted the country’s legal system in a marathon press conference following his escape to Lebanon.

Justice Minister Masako Mori held an unusual briefing in the early morning hours in Tokyo, and then gave a second press conference later on to rebut what she said were mostly “abstract, unclear or baseless” criticisms of the country’s legal system. She was scathing in her descriptions of Ghosn’s behaviour after he told the world he skipped bail and fled Japan because he did not think he would get a fair trial.

“He has been propagating both within Japan and internationally false information on Japan’s legal system and its practice,” Mori said in her first briefing. “That is absolutely intolerable.”

Ghosn, the former head of Nissan Motor Co and Renault, used the first press conference since his dramatic escape to blast what he called “hostage justice”. Speaking in four languages, he offered a point-by-point rebuttal of the charges against him and accused Japanese prosecutors, government officials and Nissan executives of conspiring to topple him to prevent a further integration of the Japanese carmaker with Renault.

In response to Ghosn’s assertion that Japan breached his human rights by preventing him from seeing his wife, Mori said such measures were only used in cases of a flight risk or when there was a danger of evidence being concealed or destroyed. Mori also lauded Japan’s police, judges and prosecutors for building what she said was the “safest country in the world”.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, which rarely makes any public comment, posted an English statement on its website saying Ghosn had only himself to blame for his strict bail conditions. It vowed to try to bring him to justice in Japan.

Airlines to avoid flight over Iran following missile attacks

Singapore Airlines and Qantas Airways were among carriers that diverted flights to skip Iranian airspace as hostilities in the Persian Gulf sparked by the US killing of a top Iranian general ignited fears of a wider conflict in the Middle East.

“In view of the latest developments in the region, all SIA flights in and out of Europe are diverted from the Iranian airspace,” SIA said in an emailed statement. “We are monitoring the situation closely and will make the appropriate adjustments to our routes if necessary.” The carrier did not elaborate.

A Boeing jet flown by Ukraine International Airlines crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran on the morning of Jan 8, killing all on board. Local officials said initial assessments suggest the incident was caused by a technical issue.

Earlier on Jan 8, Iran fired rockets at two US-Iraqi airbases, the Pentagon said, in response to the killing of General Qassem Soleimani by American forces the week before. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed responsibility for the barrage, which the US said was launched from Iran and targeted the Ayn al-Asad base in western Iraq and another facility in Erbil. It was not immediately clear whether there were casualties or major damage from the attacks.

Qantas said it will change its services to avoid flying over Iraq and Iran. Its Perth-London flight is the only one that will be affected, with about 40 to 50 minutes added to the journey. Malaysia Airlines and Vietnam Airlines also said their flights will be adjusted.

BNP Paribas unveils plans to set up Singapore currency trading hub

BNP Paribas is planning to join JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc by setting up an electronic currency trading and pricing platform in Singapore.

The facility will support electronic trading of 50 currencies in spot, forward, swaps, non-deliverable forwards and options, according to a company statement. It will also allow trading of precious and base metals.

“In Southeast Asia, we have seen our e-FX trading volumes grow by double-digits yearon-year,” Christophe Jobert, head of global markets for Southeast Asia at BNP, said in the statement. With the new hub, “our clients will benefit from better access to liquidity, more efficient price discovery and timelier trade execution”, he said.

Singapore’s currency market saw average trading volumes of US$633 billion a day in April 2019, according to the latest data available from the Bank for International Settlements. That is higher than Hong Kong and Japan, and trails only the UK and US, the data showed.

BNP’s e-trading launch comes as the bank prepares to roll out its Cortex LIVE single dealer platform to Singapore clients, according to the statement.

Bulk of Singapore SMEs not ready for impending GST increase

Only four in 10 small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore have made plans to manage a planned increase in goods and services tax (GST) to 9%, according to a survey by United Overseas Bank (UOB).

In addition, the survey found that small businesses with less than $20 million in revenue were less prepared for the GST increase.

Less than a quarter of these companies reported having started implementing measures to mitigate the GST increase, such as investing in technology, raising productivity, and moving up the value chain.

“The measures chosen by SMEs to manage the anticipated increase in GST suggest that are looking for ways to mitigate the increase in costs without passing it on to customers. This will ensure that they remain competitive without jeopardising customer loyalty,” says Mervyn Koh, UOB’s managing director and country head of business banking in Singapore.

According to the survey, SMEs plan to focus on boosting productivity this year as they grapple with a mixed business outlook.

“Our survey results indicate that factors such as trade tensions are weighing on SMEs’ outlook,” Koh says. “One of the ways SMEs are planning to achieve their productivity goals is to increase their investments in technology, which not only helps with increasing efficiency but also enhances their competitiveness in the long term.”

Amid the uncertainty, some 43% of SMEs say they will also be looking to reduce costs in 2020, while 42% intend to develop new sources of revenue.

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