Talent will play an increasingly important part in directing Singapore's next phase of growth to become an innovation-driven economy, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

In his first public remarks since he assumed the post on Tuesday, Mr Chan highlighted the importance of improving the quality of the workforce, as trade associations, companies and the Government implement the 23 Industry Transformation Maps - strategic plans for industries to address specific issues.

"Beyond connectivity and a pro-business environment, another key criterion for our continued success is being open to talent," he told 150 government officials and business leaders.

Maintaining a strong Singaporean core through programmes like SkillsFuture, which helps Singaporeans upgrade and reskill, goes in tandem with remaining open to talent worldwide, he said at a lunch organised by the European Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (EuroCham) at the St Regis Hotel.

"Foreign labour complements Singaporean workers and brings along relevant skills to create new industries and job opportunities," said Mr Chan.

"This is crucial to our long-term competitiveness, and ensures that we stay relevant to a dynamic region that is fast evolving and growing."

He later told reporters that every nation is "competing for the very best", especially in emerging sectors like fintech or bio-pharmaceuticals.

"We must continue to do our part to groom our people, and where we are short, we must be able to tap the global network to grow our industries and create opportunities," he said.

During the lunch dialogue, he spoke about his key priorities at the ministry - ensuring Singaporean firms have access to overseas markets, and helping businesses remain relevant and competitive.

He also said that it was just as important to set up systems to help Singaporeans expand their businesses overseas.

Unlike other countries or regions that may take a more protectionist approach, both the European Union and Singapore are "firm believers" of open trade.

Mr Chan cited the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, a trade pact which would lower tariffs and other barriers to trade and enhance the protection of intellectual property rights, among other things.

It is awaiting ratification, but he noted that the deal is "a pathfinder towards an eventual EU-Asean FTA and anchors the EU's engagement in the region".

Singapore is Asean chair this year, and Mr Chan said that once the trade bloc figures out how to lower the cost of trading, the region would be "much more attractive to countries beyond Asean", including the EU nations and China.

The lunch was to celebrate the Schuman Declaration made 68 years ago. The declaration led to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community - the foundation of the 28-member EU, the world's largest trading bloc.