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Singapore Table of Contents


Information Technology

After 1979 there was a single-minded emphasis among policy makers on escalating the level of technology in order to implement the succeeding phases of Singapore's industrial revolution. They relied on information technology as the strategy's principal instrument. The Telecommunications Authority of Singapore (Telecoms) was a key to the strategy because of the high caliber of its services and products and because Telecoms and the telecommunications industry had an important role in the progress of every industry in Singapore (see Telecommunications, this ch.).

A second key was computers and related electronics, which in the late 1980s constituted Singapore's largest industry, measured both in numbers of jobs and in value added by manufacturing. In 1981 the 65,000 to 70,000 electronics workers comprised about 7 percent of the labor force; gross production of electronics at about S$5.9 billion was about 15 percent of total manufacturing output. By 1987 electronics accounted for 28 percent of manufacturing employment and contributed 31 percent or S$11 billion in output. By 1989, Singapore had become the world's largest producer of disk drives and disk drive parts. Other related products included integrated circuits, data processing equipment, telecommunications equipment, and radio receivers.

The electronics industry began a calculated transition away from labor-intensive products toward higher technological content and worker-skilled products in 1974. Potential investors were encouraged to look elsewhere for low-wage, unskilled labor. Aside from producing high value-added exports, the computer and electronics industries played a vital role in raising manpower productivity in other technology-intensive industries through computerization and computer communications. The National Computer Board was formed in 1981 to establish Singapore as an international center for computer services, to reduce the shortage of trained computer professionals, and to assure standards of international caliber at all levels.

Copyright and "intellectual property" issues served as an impediment to computer and other industrial development in the early 1980s, when Singapore, as well as other Asian countries, was known for producing pirated versions of everything from computers and computer software to designer handbags. Following threats by their major Western trading partners to impose trade sanctions and by international computer and software companies not to do business, Singapore passed its first copyright law in 1986. There was fairly rigorous enforcement in areas in which Western pressure was applied (computer software, films, and cassette tapes), and nearly full compliance in the book trade, which had not been as serious a problem. The Asian "copyright revolution" (Singapore's was one of several such laws enacted in the region) was significant as a realization by those countries that they had joined the international knowledge network as producers as well as consumers.

By the mid-1980s, the small but growing printing and publishing industry had entered the high-technology world with computerized typesetting, color separation, and book binding. Its high-quality printing facilities and sophisticated satellite telecommunications network made Singapore a regional publishing and distribution center in 1989.

Data as of December 1989