Budget debate: Enhanced support schemes to defray businesses' costs of expanding overseas

Firms will also get support to develop solutions and compete globally. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Businesses looking to expand overseas are able to do so at lower costs, with enhanced support schemes to defray such expenses.

The Market Readiness Assistance (MRA) grant, which provides up to 80 per cent funding support to firms looking to internationalise, will be extended for six months to March 31, 2022, Second Minister for Trade and Industry Tan See Leng told Parliament on Tuesday (March 2).

The scope for qualifying expenses in the Double Tax Deduction for Internationalisation (DTDi) scheme has also been expanded to include virtual trade fairs to account for new modes of internationalisation due to Covid-19, he added, highlighting means of support for Singapore companies to seize opportunities globally.

Firms will also get support to develop solutions and compete globally. For example, access to new markets will be improved with the expansion of the Global Innovation Alliance network from 15 to 25 cities over the next five years.

Students and young professionals can also gain greater exposure and in-market knowledge through the Global Ready Talent programme, which has created opportunities for close to 6,000 interns since its launch in 2019, Dr Tan said, stressing that Singapore's ultimate ambition is to help local enterprises spread their wings and internationalise.

Trade associations and chambers are also doing their part in supporting internationalisation, he said, noting what Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) said about the importance of these organisations. The GlobalConnect @ SBF initiative, set up by the Singapore Business Federation and Enterprise Singapore, has supported more than 2,500 local businesses despite the challenges in 2020.

Singapore's vision of success is to have an ecosystem of resilient enterprises that are highly capable, open to collaboration, and equipped to compete globally, Dr Tan said.

"They will be nimble and innovative, to withstand disruptive shocks and black swan events such as Covid-19."

Building capabilities

Responding to questions on research and development (R&D) spending from Associate Professor Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai, Dr Tan pointed out how government investments in research, innovation and enterprise has benefited the Republic.

Business expenditure on R&D has increased more than 2.5 times over 20 years, to around $5.6 billion in 2018, he said, and Singapore has also developed a strong core of research scientists and engineers.

But the returns go beyond the hard data, Dr Tan said. "More and more companies are investing in Singapore because of the nexus to our R&D ecosystem, whether to create more durable aircraft engines, or skincare tailored to Asian skin.

"They want to create intellectual property as a sustainable and competitive edge, in an economy which is trusted and in a Singapore brand that fits the bill."

He noted how Singapore's biomedical sciences R&D capabilities, built up over the past 20 years, enabled it to develop and manufacture a diagnostic test which has since sold over five million units in over 45 countries.

Addressing a clarification from Prof Lim, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing elaborated on capitalising R&D spending, noting that there are different schemes for different part of the chain with the Government taking on greater investment for the early stages.

"As we go downstream towards the innovation and commercialisation possibilities, we would like to crowd in more of this (from the private sector)."

Mr Chan also replied a question from Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) on the outcome indicators of enterprise support schemes, highlighting that the ministry looks not just at the input and output of support schemes, but also the overall outcome.

Agreeing with Mr Perera that the outcome has a multitude of factors, he stressed that the ministry constantly reviews its schemes to ensure that finite resources are applied to the best use and will make adjustments to redirect resources where need be.

Access to financing

Having access to financing and capital is crucial to enterprises' growth ambitions, Dr Tan noted.

The Enterprise Financing Scheme - Venture Debt programme, introduced in October 2015, will be enhanced from April 1, 2021 with a higher supported maximum loan quantum of $8 million, up from $5 million, per borrower group.

The programme aims to boost adoption of venture debt in Singapore, can help to finance and improve the growth of innovative, high-growth enterprises that may not have significant assets to be used as collateral under traditional bank lending.

Replying to Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) and Nominated MP Janet Ang on how the new Local Enterprises Funding Platform can support Singapore firms, he said that the programme will actively seek out promising large local enterprises to invest in, focusing on sectors that are aligned with the engines of growth in Singapore's economy. It will also draw on the network and expertise of state investor Temasek, he added.

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