Parliament: Deepen links with provinces, states and cities to help companies tap overseas opportunities

An aerial view of shipping containers stacked at the port of Singapore.
An aerial view of shipping containers stacked at the port of Singapore.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - An initiative to deepen international links not just with countries but also provinces, states and cities will make it easier for local companies to tap on overseas opportunities, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang on Friday (Mar 3).

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) keen on expanding abroad will also be encouraged to partner larger companies and take advantage of the digital economy, Mr Lim told Parliament during the debate on the Ministry of Trade and Industry(MTI)'s budget.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) and Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), had asked what mounting anti-trade sentiment globally means for Singapore, and what support companies will receive to tap on overseas opportunities.

Trade and external demand are key drivers of Singapore's economy, accounting for two-thirds of gross domestic product, said Mr Lim.

"Small and open economies like Singapore are especially vulnerable to global developments, but our external linkages can also make us more resilient," he added, noting IE Singapore's 2016 Internationalisation Survey showed companies' overseas revenue grew 4.2 per cent year-on-year, faster than total revenue growth of 1.3 per cent.

Mr Lim outlined four key ways to help firms tap on international opportunities.

One involves Singapore continuing to take advantage of the 21 free trade agreements and economic partnership agreements it has with 32 trading partners in multiple regions. These agreements helped companies benefit from tariff savings of over $900 million in 2015 and also lower non-tariff trade barriers, said the minister.

Two, the country will also deepen international links with provinces, states and cities. For example, the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park projects are spread across six provinces in Vietnam and cater to the priorities of each province, taking into account local skillsets and investors' demand, Mr Lim noted.

There are also opportunities in developed markets - Singapore has hosted delegations from American states like Texas, Alabama and Washington, "all of whom have been eager to find new markets for their exports and welcome new investments", said Mr Lim.

The third way will see the Government ramp up support for companies keen on going global - for instance, by helping SMEs take advantage of the digital economy to access new markets.

Singapore firms can also partner larger companies to venture abroad, he noted.

Companies can benefit from greater economies of scale by going abroad together, and trade associations and chambers can help foster such collaborations.

The final measure to support companies venturing abroad is the Global Innovation Alliance, which was announced in last month's Budget.

Economic agencies will work with institutes of higher learning to establish connections with technology and innovation hubs globally, Mr Lim said.

During the debate, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran also said "Singapore Centres" will be set up in key markets to strengthen coordination of agencies' overseas operations.

They will serve as the key point of contact for Singapore-based companies entering overseas markets, as well as for overseas investors keen on learning more about Singapore.

These centres have been set up in nine key markets so far and will be extended to all 36 overseas locations where the Economic Development Board and trade agency IE Singapore have a presence, he said.

chiaym@sph.com.sg