Support for SMEs will continue: Iswaran

Government agencies understand the challenges Singapore's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are facing in the current economic climate and will continue to support them, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran pledged on Monday.

However, despite calls for more government help for businesses, the situation cannot be compared with the 2008 global financial crisis which threatened to bring down the economy, he said.

"Even as we deal with short-term challenges, it is crucial that we press on with our longer-term economic restructuring to become more innovative, productive and manpower-lean," he said

Mr Iswaran was speaking at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry's (SCCCI) Chinese New Year gathering, attended by about 450 businessmen.

The Committee on the Future Economy, of which Mr Iswaran is deputy chairman, will consult closely with the business community to chart the longer-term course for Singapore's growth.

"A few months ago, I had a fruitful dialogue with the SCCCI leaders who provided useful feedback which our agencies are working on," he noted.

The Government will also continue helping SMEs internationalise and innovate, Mr Iswaran added.

Over the past year, IE Singapore has helped nearly 4,500 companies with efforts to spread their wings abroad through its various financial assistance schemes.

An SME Centre set up in Shanghai by SCCCI IE Singapore has helped more than 5,000 SMEs do business in China.

He also acknowledged SCCCI's role in helping local enterprises.

For instance, the SME Centre@SCCCI and its satellite centre at Central Community Development Council provide business advice to over 300 SMEs monthly.

SCCCI also promotes closer consultation between industry and the Government.

Just over the past year, it has organised 18 dialogue sessions between its trade association members and government agencies to address business challenges, including industry land-use, compliance costs and rentals.

Separately, SCCCI president Thomas Chua noted that this year's activities by the chamber are in response to the needs of businesses, especially in these more difficult times.

These will include a two-day conference and expo focusing on innovation and technology, and the launching of an e-learning portal which will teach members how to grow their family businesses, among other topics.

At the same time, it will groom the younger generation of business leaders with a networking cruise for young entrepreneurs to take place in September.

SCCCI is also planning for the move to new premises at the Trade Association Hub at Jurong Town Hall next year. Over 10 trade association members have already committed to moving there.

The chamber marks its 110th year this year. "We want to take this opportunity to increase our support for members with activities to not just celebrate, but address their needs and be in line with government initiatives; to encourage our SMEs and help them grow," Mr Chua told reporters.

Rennie Whang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'Support for SMEs will continue: Iswaran'. Print Edition | Subscribe