Belt and Road Initiative opens opportunities for both big and small firms: SBF chairman

China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) holds opportunities not just for Singapore's big corporations, but its smaller firms as well, Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chairman Teo Siong Seng said yesterday.

Singapore companies can provide legal, financial and other professional services, or manpower training to Chinese firms, Mr Teo said in an interview with The Straits Times, adding that in some cases, smaller enterprises do this better than bigger firms. The SBF chairman is leading a high-level business delegation from Singapore to attend the Belt and Road Forum here in the Chinese capital.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is also attending the forum, along with almost 40 heads of state or government.

Singapore firms, including United Overseas Bank, are expected to sign deals with Chinese partners over the next few days, said Mr Teo.

The BRI - the signature foreign policy and development strategy of Chinese President Xi Jinping - aims to connect China to Europe, Africa and other parts of Asia by building a network of ports, roads, railways and industrial hubs.

Yesterday, Mr Teo said that as a financial and commercial centre of South-east Asia, Singapore was well-positioned to grasp opportunities from Beijing's mega initiative to revive ancient trade networks.

To help Singapore companies do so, the SBF has launched initiatives like BRI Connect, a platform that helps Singapore firms connect with regional partners.

Mr Teo said the aim is to encourage smaller firms to tap this platform and team up with larger companies when they go abroad, which can help to lessen the risks they face in such ventures.

Singapore also offers Chinese firms a gateway to South-east Asia and the world, said Mr Teo.

"They can take advantage of the networks that we have, many companies have their regional headquarters in Singapore," he said.

Cooperating with Singapore firms or using the country as a platform could also help address some of the international criticism that the BRI has faced about its projects being exploitative of host countries.

"Some of my Chinese friends tell me if they have companies based out of Singapore, they find it more effective working in neighbouring countries... The Singapore brand is recognised," said Mr Teo.

Yesterday, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing also said at a separate panel discussion on policy connectivity during the forum that Singapore was an "early supporter" of the initiative.

He noted that both the Singapore and Chinese governments were working on the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative which connects the overland economic belt with the Maritime Silk Road - the two main trunks of the BRI.

Singapore's next-generation trade platforms also offer "seamless data flow to save time and money for traders", he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2019, with the headline Belt and Road Initiative opens opportunities for both big and small firms: SBF chairman. Subscribe