Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Trade and Industry

$2.3b kitty for transformation of local firms

A total of $2.3 billion will be available for local firms to transform themselves in the next five years.

The amount is part of the fifth tranche of the Enterprise Development Fund and is an increase over the $1.4 billion approved in the previous tranche.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon announced the sum yesterday when he outlined in Parliament how the Government is helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as Singapore restructures its economy. The money will support existing Spring and IE Singapore schemes, such as the Market Readiness Assistance (MRA) and Global Company Partnership (GCP) programmes.

Last year, IE Singapore supported 34,000 companies in their internationalisation efforts and more than 80 per cent of them were SMEs, said Dr Koh.

The MRA helped more than 30,700 companies and the GCP, more than 3,800.

Even as more funds are set aside to help develop local firms, the Government is also sharpening its assistance schemes, said Dr Koh.

The $500 million Infocomm for Productivity and Growth scheme, introduced in Budget 2014 to help SMEs adopt infocomm technology, will be expanded to support costs such as retrofitting and business consultancy.

SMEs will also get help for upgrades even if they had already tapped the scheme earlier. And the support will be given across all branches of a business.

A new industrial hub, the Metals, Machinery and Timber Hub in Kranji, is also being developed by the JTC and will benefit SMEs in these trades, said Dr Koh.

Set to be completed in 2020, the multi-storey hub can accommodate heavy automation machinery and products.

It will also let companies use overhead cranes, for instance, which can reduce their reliance on forklifts.

In stressing that Singapore must press on with its productivity drive, Dr Koh noted that domestically oriented sectors have fared poorly compared with outward- oriented sectors such as finance and insurance.

He said a change in mindsets is needed for the productivity drive to succeed.

Citing a positive example, he said retailers have gone into e-commerce to boost sales and that consumers, too, can help, for instance, by using self-checkout counters in supermarkets.

Trade associations and chambers also play a critical role, he added. They understand their sectors' challenges and their networks help the Government reach more SMEs than would otherwise be possible.

To help prepare the workforce for the new economy, more students will get help to go abroad.

The Young Talent Programme-Market Immersion, which gives students opportunities for overseas internships and work-study programmes, will be extended to Institute of Technical Education colleges later this year, said Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline '$2.3b kitty for transformation of local firms'. Subscribe