Singapore's Indian business community can help grow the Republic's economy by venturing into India's rapidly growing market, and into growth sectors here like agri-food, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.
"By building a stronger community, and looking for new paths to innovate and internationalise together, the Indian business community will continue to be an important part of our Singapore story," Mr Heng said to more than 700 people at a dinner to mark the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's (SICCI) 95th year.
Despite current economic headwinds, Singapore can build on its strong fundamentals to continue forging ahead, added Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.
Openness is one of Singapore's enduring values, and internationalising is one way the Indian business community can help expand the economy beyond the small local market.
Mr Heng said that SICCI and its members are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities in India, a key growing market and "a natural first destination" for Indian businesses in Singapore.
"Already, we have established many links that businesses can build upon - from people-to-people connections, to trade and investment and avoidance of double taxation agreements - to facilitate win-win cooperation for both sides."
Mr Heng said SICCI plans to set up an international business division to help businesses venturing overseas. It will work with Enterprise Singapore and the Singapore Business Federation to provide market outreach and advice, focusing on India.
Apart from venturing abroad, innovation can also transform Singapore's constraints into opportunities, Mr Heng added.
For example, Singapore now has a thriving water industry that contributes more than $2.2 billion in annual value-add and 14,400 jobs.
Like water, food can be a story of overcoming land constraints to create a new growth sector, contributing to food resilience, he said.
"Singapore can be a leading urban agriculture and aquaculture technology node, and a global forerunner in providing sustainable urban food solutions to the world."
Embracing innovation through digital technology can also drive economic growth across industries, he said, noting that SICCI is helping firms to adopt technology like e-payments and mobile apps.
Besides seeking new opportunities, Mr Heng urged Indian business leaders to continue giving back to society, in the spirit of the community's pioneers.
He pointed to Naraina Pillai, who came to Singapore in 1819 and started its first brick company, later expanding to trade in textiles and cotton. The Indian merchant also led efforts to build Sri Mariamman Temple in 1827. The temple is now a national monument.
"I hope that the Indian business community will continue to embrace this spirit of partnership and service, and work with each other and across communities to build a better Singapore," said Mr Heng.
Yesterday's dinner at Marina Bay Sands also saw SICCI present 10 Indian businessmen with awards for their achievements in entrepreneurship.
One of them was Mr Ameerali R. Jumabhoy, 94, who was given the Lifetime Achievement Award.
He headed Scotts Holdings for 14 years and has led business delegations to 22 countries, including Singapore's first delegation to South Africa.