Trade associations, chambers 'can do more for SMEs'

Trade associations and chambers can play a greater role in helping local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) grow locally and overseas, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing has said.

At Berita Harian's inaugural seminar for SMEs yesterday, he outlined a few ways in which trade associations and chambers can pull their weight, one of them being to take on the role of an intermediary.

He said: "Domestically, different industries and trades require different technologies, but each of the companies by itself is unable to have the critical mass in terms of sourcing for ideas and training with people."

What trade associations and chambers can do is organise the SMEs by sector and provide a suite of support specific to each sector - from sourcing and repackaging the relevant technologies for SMEs to "plug and play", to training workers and conducting post-implementation reviews.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry is prepared to help trade associations and chambers build up those capabilities, Mr Chan added.

In addition, venturing overseas is "not easy", he noted.

Hence, trade associations and chambers can aid SMEs by helping them group together to go overseas and explore opportunities beyond the local market.

Mr Chan said he was also prepared to arrange for an exchange for Enterprise Singapore officers and those from the chambers, so that they can trade know-how on the government schemes available to SMEs, for example.

More importantly, for firms looking overseas, trade associations and chambers can help them navigate foreign waters by "sharing with them some of the challenges, rules and operating context in those countries, so that we don't have to relearn the lessons of the past", he said.

While much attention is on the ongoing United States-China trade war, Mr Chan highlighted the presence of non-tariff barriers as an example of challenges SMEs should be conscious of as they grow overseas.

"Be very aware that there are non-tariff barriers that we all have to navigate intelligently as a team together."

At the seminar, where technological developments such as robotic process automation were showcased, Mr Chan said new technologies can also provide opportunities for SMEs to grow overseas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2018, with the headline 'Trade associations, chambers 'can do more for SMEs''. Print Edition | Subscribe