Singapore's maturing economy is adjusting to a slower pace of growth, but there are still significant opportunities available for companies keen on innovating and expanding abroad, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said yesterday.
Also, measures have been put in place to help companies in the worst-hit sectors.
He stressed that Singapore's long-term prosperity hinges on it being able to nurture and grow innovative companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Mr Iswaran was speaking during the Budget debate, after several MPs lamented the lack of financial relief for struggling SMEs.
Businesses are hoping for some relief, Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) said, adding: "However, it seems their hopes will not materialise... For most of the smaller businesses, this year's Budget is a non-event."
Nominated MP Thomas Chua, who is president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was circumspect. It will be tough to strike a balance between businesses' short-term concerns about operational costs and the Government's longer-term considerations about the country's economic competitiveness, he said.
Mr Iswaran said performance across sectors has been uneven, with some facing significant headwinds.
While the Budget did not introduce additional broad measures for companies, the hardest-hit industries had received some short-term relief.
For instance, measures rolled out last November for the marine and offshore engineering sector aimed to help companies meet short-term cash flow needs and get new loans to continue to take up projects.
Levy hikes for work permit holders in the marine and process sectors were also deferred for another year.
The 2016 SME Working Capital Loan has acted as a catalyst in the disbursement of more than $700 million in loans to about 4,300 SMEs, he noted.
Mr Iswaran stressed that companies need to gear up for the long term and be prepared to take advantage of emerging opportunities in key sectors.
Citing infrastructure and urban solutions, he said: "Our infrastructure and urban solutions companies are held in high regard and can participate... in partnership with their Chinese, Indian and regional counterparts. This is not just an opportunity for big players."
He reiterated that SMEs are at the centre of efforts to transform Singapore's economy. He listed a plethora of schemes to help companies expand overseas, innovate and deepen their capabilities. These include:
- $400 million in grants to companies going international.
- The $36 million Technology Adoption Programme and the $45 million Get-Up scheme to build up innovation capabilities by seconding public-sector researchers to SMEs.
- A suite of loan programmes that will collectively catalyse $5 billion in loans up to 2020.
"The Government is resolute in our commitment to help our SMEs (transform) successfully. Large companies do not necessarily need this breadth of support.
"It is the small companies that need them," Mr Iswaran said.