SINGAPORE – Amid the challenges of rising costs, the main thrust of support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is focused on companies that are prepared to take steps to raise productivity and expand their business, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said on Friday.
This support will help the firms thrive in the longer term, and is in line with the Government’s continued balanced approach in its economic development strategies to stay competitive by nurturing local businesses, upskilling workers and attracting foreign investments.
Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister, noted that significant resources continue to be put in to grow local enterprises.
Between 2019 and 2022, the amount of support extended to SMEs via a host of existing schemes doubled, while the number of local enterprises that were given support to build new capabilities, innovate and expand overseas increased by about 60 per cent.
“But the main thrust of our support for SMEs is focused on helping those who are prepared to take steps themselves to restructure their businesses, raise their productivity, and venture into new markets and products,” Mr Wong said as he addressed MPs’ comments on the Budget statement delivered on Feb 14.
Attracting quality foreign investments is another area of focus, as it helps local enterprises by transferring technical know-how and expertise.
Using the medical technology (medtech) sector as an example, Mr Wong said multinational enterprises like Waters Corp, Illumina and ResMed have brought cutting-edge capabilities to Singapore through their investments.
“Over the years, they have sunk roots here and contributed to the growth of our medtech ecosystem. They have developed strong partnerships with local companies such as Richport, Nanofilm and Sunningdale, enabling our local enterprises to improve their capabilities and scale up their businesses to reach out to more customers,” he said.
Even as attracting foreign investment is becoming more challenging amid intensifying competition and geopolitical tensions, Singapore has been able to adapt.
“We are seeing healthy flows of investments, capital and talent into Singapore, and we are seizing these opportunities to build capabilities, strengthen our value proposition and ultimately create more jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans,” said Mr Wong.
He added that Singapore must leverage its competitive advantages – high-quality infrastructure, stable policy environment and access to talent – while managing its inherent and permanent constraints, especially in the areas of manpower, land and energy.
“We will always be a little red dot. Manpower resources will always be insufficient. Land will always be limited, and we will always be energy-constrained. And so we cannot compete on the basis of cost alone. Instead, we must focus on differentiating ourselves in terms of quality and value,” he said.
At the same time, economic growth must also translate into better jobs and opportunities for workers.
Mr Wong said unproductive jobs will become obsolete, and in their place, new, better and more productive roles will be created. “This churn is an integral part of healthy economic growth. But it does create uncertainty for workers,” he added.
To support this workforce transition, the Government will continue to focus on targeted re-employment and training support.
“We want to provide some cushion while the workers undertake training to upgrade their skills and take on new roles that better fit their abilities and aptitudes, and ultimately, we want to help Singaporeans bounce back stronger from any setback that they may encounter throughout their careers.”
Several MPs, including Mr Edward Chia (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Mr Derrick Goh (Nee Soon GRC), had asked whether the Government’s policy focus has moved from a pro-growth to a pro-redistribution approach.
In response, Mr Wong said: “Let me set the record straight. We remain focused on growing the economic pie. Because only then can Singaporeans build better lives for themselves and their families, and only then will we have the resources we need to redistribute, strengthen our social compact and progress as one people.”