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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the company visit to Sea Group and Shopee

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the company visit to Sea Group and Shopee

1. Good afternoon to all of you.

2. The reason why we chose to visit Shopee today is because Shopee is an example of our country's efforts and determination to grow a new generation of homegrown companies that do not just serve the market in Singapore and South-East Asia, but also global markets.

3. Today, Sea is already the largest homegrown tech company with a strong footprint in South-East Asia. They have just told me that they have also gone into the South American market. That is very commendable, and the company has continued its very strong growth trajectory.

4. Some of the factors that allowed Sea to succeed in Singapore and the global stage is also instrumental in how we can grow a new generation of companies to propel Singapore's economic development. In the initial days of our independence, we grew many big companies like DBS and SIA. Now, it comes time for us to grow another generation of technology companies that can have the world as its market. The question is, how we can help every company in Singapore, every SME to grow. As I have said before, SME can also stand for “Singapore MNCs Emerging”. That is our aspiration.

5. I will go through a couple of factors that will put us in good stead to allow companies in Singapore to succeed in the global market. These factors have become even more important in the current environment.

6. There are some fundamentals that have always put Singapore in good stead, and we have every reason to believe that they will continue to serve us well. This includes, for example, the fact that we have a stable political environment that allows companies to plan for the long-term. This also includes the transparency and clarity of our legal processes, our intellectual property protection, a diverse financial market that allows companies at various stages of their development to raise funds to support their development, a skilled workforce, and a strong tripartite relationship.

7. But now that we have a new generation of companies that can provide the international markets with new products and solutions, we will also require new capabilities. For example, Biofourmis is a homegrown deep tech company that created Biovitals, an AI-powered health analytics platform. This suggests that there are also new factors at play. Let me talk about some of these new factors that will allow us to help grow the new generation of companies.

8. Being based out of Singapore has unique advantages for many of these unicorns. First, we are not caught up, and we do not want to be caught up in geopolitics. In fact, we want to be able to serve global markets across different geopolitical routes and across different economic groups.

9. Interestingly, the fact that we do not have a large domestic market has allowed us to turn it into a strength. When you look at our companies like Sea, from day one, they started their operations aspiring to be a regional and global company. Paradoxically, for some companies that start off in bigger domestic markets, they tend to focus on the domestic market first, and then think about their further expansion some time down the road. But for many of the Singapore companies, they have to learn to operate out of Singapore to serve the regional markets.

10. Unlike those with large domestic markets, it is not a homogeneous market. In fact, many of the companies from Singapore that have succeeded in serving regional markets have to learn to live with the diversity and cooperate in a very heterogeneous, not homogeneous, environment outside of Singapore. This allows them to build up real capabilities to work at a global level, and yet localise their products and services to their respective markets. This is a very important strength that they have.

11. A factor that has increasingly become very important for many of the deep tech companies and the bio-pharmaceutical companies is the issue of trust. The fact that people trust Singapore as a brand is a tremendous advantage for a new generation of companies that deal with many things that are more intimate to consumers' needs. This includes healthcare and financial products. All these require a high level of trust, which Singapore companies are well-placed to leverage on. We must continue to make sure that we distinguish ourselves with this kind of strength.

12. Having developed these companies, the success of this generation of companies will not be the only result. In fact, when companies like Shopee succeed, they help both our local enterprises and our workers. As Shopee develops, it will also grow the local ecosystem of SMEs to support them. When you have queen bees like Shopee, you will help to bring along and catalyse the development of our local SMEs. Just now, we saw the demonstration of how, by using the Shopee platform, many local SMEs have been able to expand their markets in Singapore and beyond. This is a good example of how our local companies who have succeeded on the global stage can help to propel and uplift another generation of SMEs.

13. There is also another dimension to the growth of these companies. Statistically, from our data in MTI and MOM, we know that for the same occupation, the same person in the same industry, the ability to join a bigger company actually provides better wage outcomes and job prospects. This is not rocket science. This is why in MTI, we have a corporate pyramid whereby there might be about 2,000 of the largest companies with revenue of above 100 million dollars. In the next tier, you have maybe a few thousand Medium Enterprises. Then, the next tier you have the small enterprises in the tens of thousands, and finally, micro enterprises in the hundreds of thousands. Our job is to make sure that we provide the ecosystem for the micro enterprises to become small enterprises, the small to become medium, and the medium to become large. As they move up the corporate pyramid, they can provide better job opportunities and wage prospects for our workers. This is why we spend a lot of effort in Singapore to try and uplift our companies and help them to move up the corporate pyramid.

14. Of course, as they move up the corporate pyramid, those that are successful like Shopee and Sea will also bring along the rest of the local ecosystem of SMEs. This is how we compete as a team to grow a vibrant SME network, and to also provide good wage and job prospects for our workers. We have every intention to continue to make sure that we work on this ecosystem, by leveraging our conventional strengths and building on the new strengths in order to position ourselves well in a more globalised and more digitalised economy. Because really, the competition is worldwide. For companies in Singapore to succeed like Sea, they have to think international, operate international, but yet be able to mobilise their products and services in their respective markets. This is how we will be able to distinguish ourselves.

15. Finally, one of the other key success factors for large companies like Sea is our ability to build talent networks. Over the last few years, you have seen the growth of Sea. This would not have been possible without a strong local pipeline of talent that comes out from our universities, polytechnics and ITEs. This is the core of their recruitment. On top of that, as they become more successful, they also attract regional talent to come and work with them to complement our Singapore workforce and our tech ecosystem. This makes for a stronger Sea team and a stronger Singapore team. With that, we will continue to grow from strength to strength.

16. Having said this, we must be very aware that it is a very tough competition. In fact, one of the things that the Sea management shared with us is that in a globalised and digitalised world, there will only be a few victors. If you are not at that peak, you will be easily displaced by the rest. Our aim must be to use the advantages that we have to make sure that we help our companies to grow and bulk up in size, so that they can compete on the international stage to deliver better outcomes for the local SME network, and to deliver a better outcome for our workers.

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