An initiative to deepen international links with not just countries but also provinces, states and cities will make it easier for local companies to tap overseas opportunities, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang yesterday.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) keen on expanding abroad will also be encouraged to partner larger companies and take advantage of the digital economy, he told Parliament during the debate on the Ministry of Trade and Industry's budget.
Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland- Bukit Timah GRC), Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) and Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) had asked what mounting global anti-trade sentiment means for Singapore, and what support firms will receive to tap overseas opportunities.
Mr Lim said trade and external demand are key drivers of Singapore's economy, accounting for two-thirds of gross domestic product.
"Small and open economies like Singapore are especially vulnerable to global developments, but our external linkages can also make us more resilient," he added, noting that trade agency IE Singapore's Internationalisation Survey last year showed companies' overseas revenue grew 4.2 per cent year-on-year, faster than total revenue growth of 1.3 per cent.
Total bill: Down 3.1 per cent
clean energy companies in Singapore last year
SMEs benefited from the SME Working Capital Loan as of Dec 31 last year
start-ups in Singapore in 2015
Mr Lim outlined four key ways to help firms tap international opportunities. One involves Singapore continuing to take advantage of the 21 free trade and economic partnership agreements it has with 32 trading partners in multiple regions. These agreements helped firms benefit from tariff savings of more than $900 million in 2015 and also lower non-tariff trade barriers, he said.
Second, the country will deepen international links with provinces, states and cities. For example, the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park projects are spread across six provinces in Vietnam and cater to the priorities of each province, taking into account local skill sets and investors' demand.
There are also opportunities in developed markets - Singapore has hosted delegations from American states like Texas, Alabama and Washington, "all of whom have been eager to find new markets for their exports and welcome new investments", said Mr Lim.
The third way will see the Government ramping up support for companies keen on going global - for instance, by helping SMEs take advantage of the digital economy to access new markets.
Singapore firms can also partner larger companies to venture abroad, he noted. Companies can benefit from greater economies of scale by going abroad together, and trade associations and chambers can help foster such collaborations.
The final measure to support companies venturing abroad is the Global Innovation Alliance, which was announced in last month's Budget.
Economic agencies will work with institutes of higher learning to establish connections with technology and innovation hubs globally, Mr Lim said.
During yesterday's debate, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said "Singapore Centres" will be set up in key markets to strengthen coordination of agencies' overseas operations.
They will serve as the key point of contact for Singapore-based companies entering overseas markets, as well as for overseas investors keen on learning more about Singapore.
These centres have been set up in nine key markets so far, and will be extended to all 36 overseas locations where the Economic Development Board and IE Singapore have a presence, said Mr Iswaran.