Going abroad has never been more vital for local businesses amid a prolonged economic slowdown and limited growth opportunities, Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang has said.
The Government stands ready to support firms venturing overseas, while partnerships with trade chambers and big corporates will also help them do so, Mr Lim said.
"To describe the economic environment facing us in the next few years: lower for longer. Lower economic growth for longer than we should expect, and lower commodity prices than we think we will face," he said yesterday.
Against this backdrop, "companies need to venture into new and diverse markets, expand their international footprint and gain economies of scale", he added.
Mr Lim was speaking at the inaugural Human Capital Singapore (HCS) Internationalisation Forum, where he reiterated the Government's strong support for overseas expansion. He cited trade agency IE Singapore's Market Readiness Assistance scheme and SkillsFuture Study Award for Internationalisation as key examples.
He acknowledged that small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) may lack the scale or value proposition to succeed overseas alone.
So SMEs are encouraged to form "consortiums" for overseas venture. Trade associations and chambers are also valuable platforms to access the know-how and partners, Mr Lim said.
CapitaLand's group chief executive, Mr Lim Ming Yan, said on the sidelines of the forum that large companies can also help take SMEs overseas, something the group has been doing for years.
"We have over 100 shopping malls in this region, and Singapore retailers which are interested in going overseas will have opportunities to work with us. For us, that adds a Singapore dimension to our malls, which we're happy to have, but it also helps them grow their business," he said.
Still, Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit said, the road overseas is potholed with risks for SMEs, which often cite an unfamiliar business and bureaucratic environment as a key concern. Said food product and catering firm Tong Chiang Group chief executive Lisa Zou, SMEs need to have the right mindset.
Tong Chiang was one of the Singapore firms to sign memorandums of understanding at the forum yesterday for overseas projects. The firm will partner with Korea Bio Plant to manufacture instant steamed rice.
Ms Zou said: "The production will start very soon in Singapore, and will expand to Shanghai and Korea within nine to 12 months. We have several other expansion plans in advanced talks, including a partnership in the area of traditional Chinese medicine.
"In my opinion, Singapore SMEs often prefer to play it safe. But what you need to have is the can-do spirit and a strong belief in yourself. Don't forget that you're bringing the Singapore brand overseas, and that still commands a great advantage in regional markets."