HANOVER • Singapore is positioning itself as a gateway for German firms to tap the opportunities in Asean, as the region looks set to become an economic force in Asia.
Germany already has a strong contingent of companies in Singapore, but there is still opportunity for its Mittelstand - also known as the German small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - to enter the Asean region, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran in his keynote speech.
He was speaking at the Asean Forum 2018 held at the Hannover Messe, the world's largest industrial technology fair in Germany.
Asean is seen as a key growth engine in Asia. With a population of over 600 million and gross domestic product of US$2.5 trillion (S$3.3 trillion), it is projected to grow further for the rest of the decade, said Mr Iswaran.
And despite the relatively uncertain global trade conditions, he told the audience that Asean "continues to be resolute in its commitment to economic integration".
"We want to integrate the region to offer a compelling alternative to what you might find in China or India, and in some of the other larger economies of the world," he said.
With Singapore taking over the chairmanship of Asean this year, a key focus will be the digital economy.
Not only will this be a new platform for growth, but it will also enable Asean to "unlock the potential" of the SMEs in the region. They will be able to access distant markets at a relatively low cost, and be able to work in collaboration with partners from other parts of the world, said Mr Iswaran.
He noted: "Our efforts in Industry 4.0 in the digitalisation of the manufacturing sector have gathered significant momentum. Many of our Asean member states are already focused on this."
They have different approaches, but the objective is the same, which is to gear up industries such as manufacturing for the future, he said.
Singapore will be hosting the Asia-Pacific edition of Hannover Messe for the first time this year, known as Industrial Transformation Asia Pacific (Itap), in October.
With 20,000 sq m of space, the flagship advanced manufacturing event in Asia will be a showcase for emerging technologies and a platform for global thought leaders and key industry stakeholders to exchange ideas and build new partnerships.
Ms Melissa Ow, deputy chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board, said: "Cutting-edge events like this reinforce Singapore's position as Asia's leading business hub and boost our reputation for thought leadership and innovation."
Some 60 per cent of the floor space for Itap has already been booked, with one-third of the companies coming from Singapore. Local firms include ST Engineering, 3D printing firm Creatz3D and automation system provider ASTech. Global names that have committed include Emerson Automation Solutions and Pepperl+Fuchs.
The event is projected to welcome some 200 exhibiting companies, as well as more than 10,000 attendees from over 30 countries.
In separate remarks to the media, Mr Iswaran said Itap will also be an opportunity to get workers on board.
"When we talk about digitalisation, there's always - quite understandably - some anxiety from workers on what it means for their jobs and their future."
But while there will be an impact on work as it is being done today, there will also be new kinds of jobs opening up that workers can prepare themselves for, such as through SkillsFuture learning initiatives, he said.