Amid the challenges they face in a slowing economy - and a changing world - small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will get all possible help from the Government to transform themselves into future engines of growth.
Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran gave this commitment on the first day of debate on the Government's Budget for the coming financial year, after several MPs highlighted the squeeze that SMEs were feeling.
After the Committee on the Future Economy report and the Budget statement, he said, the key question was where the opportunities for growth lay and how Singapore could seize them.
Fortunately, Singapore was situated in the heart of the region - Asean, China and India - that was driving global growth, he said.
At the same time, cities in Asia were looking for urban solutions and to build their infrastructure - areas in which Singapore companies were well known.
The digital economy also offered an opportunity for even the smallest company to seek customers in the farthest markets, he said.
"Our challenge is to ensure that our companies are geared up for the longer term so that they can seize these opportunities," said Mr Iswaran.
That is where the Government planned to step in and help firms, especially the smaller players, grasp these chances.
There were schemes being put in place to help SMEs internationalise, he said. This included the Budget's $600 million International Partnership Fund to help firms expand abroad.
The Government also had a suite of loan programmes ready to help SMEs finance their expansion.
The SMEs Go Digital Programme, announced during the Budget, would help SMEs digitise their products and services, he said.
In addition, there was also a variety of schemes available to SMEs to develop the skills of their workers.
He added a caveat. The environment was more uncertain and the Government's emphasis was on broad measures to help industries as a whole.
"Companies that are prepared to go further and faster will get more help," he said. "But that does not mean we are picking winners. The winners are picking themselves and adapting to our schemes."
He cited several companies, such as Memiontec and HipVan, that have seized such opportunities.
Mr Iswaran's speech came after six of the 10 MPs who spoke before him expressed concerns that the Budget did not offer enough aid for SMEs hit by the slowing economy.
He said that in the shorter term, there were targeted measures for sectors that had been harder hit, such as marine and offshore engineering, and construction.
But the most durable solution lay in moving up the value curve, innovating and offering products and services that others were not offering, he said.
"There is no lack of government resolve or resources available to help our companies, especially SMEs, successfully transform."
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