Speech by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling at Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI)’s Committee Of Supply Debate 2022

Speech by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling at Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI)’s Committee Of Supply Debate 2022

“Building our Economy Together as One”

A. Introduction

1 Mr Chairman, we have gone through two long and hard years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenging and uncertain business environment which upended lives and operations, Singapore enterprises have shown incredible resilience and mettle to transform and thrive in the new normal.

2 As encouraged by Minister Gan Kim Yong and Second Minister Tan See Leng, we have the chance to seize the new opportunities before us, and to forge a new path forward for our economy. Let me now elaborate on our plans to support our businesses as we chart the path ahead together. We will leave no stone unturned to enable our people and our businesses to emerge even stronger than before. 

B. Critical Support for Businesses

Ensuring the flow of access to finance

3 First and foremost, we know that access to financing is the lifeblood of business survival and business growth. To ensure our enterprises have ready access to financing at various stages of their development, the Government has put in place a range of support measures specifically for this purpose.  In the last two years, close to 28,000 companies have secured financing from the Enterprise Financing Schemes (EFS). And we will do even more.

4 As the Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong recently announced in Budget 2022 just two weeks ago, we will extend the Temporary Bridging Loan Programme (TBLP), as well as the enhanced EFS Project Loan (EFS-PL) and EFS Trade Loan (EFS-TL). We will also be making further enhancements to schemes such as the EFS Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) scheme. These improvements come on the back of industry feedback and engagement.

5 One company that has benefitted from the EFS-Mergers & Acquisitions scheme is GKE Corporation Limited. This is a third-party logistics provider that provides warehousing, freight services, transportation, marine logistics and port management services. They took up an EFS M&A loan of $6 million to fund the acquisition of a chemical tolling company. This strategic acquisition will help GKE acquire deeper technical expertise in specialty chemical manufacturing and capture a broader segment of customers as a market leader for chemical logistics. To support more companies like GKE in their growth plans, we will be expanding the EFS-M&A programme to include domestic M&A activities from 1 April this year to 31 March 2026. 

6 In addition, we will provide fresh avenues of financing for the green economy. The Enterprise Sustainability Programme (ESP) that was just launched last October has an Enterprise Financing Scheme component (EFS-Green) designed to help our local enterprises capture opportunities and develop capabilities in sustainability. Sectors involving Clean Energy, the Circular Economy, Green Infrastructure and Clean Transportation are well placed to tap into this source of funding. 

7 These enhancements to keep the financing tap on will reassure Ms Rahayu Mahzam that companies can access the vital support they need to seize green shoots of opportunities and tide through the pandemic. We will continue to monitor the schemes’ efficacy and finetune them to give our local companies our fullest support. 

Business-friendly portal GoBusiness gives tailored recommendations

8 Apart from financing, I would like to assure Mr Shawn Huang and Ms Rahayu Mahzam that our enterprises have a one-stop portal called GoBusiness to rely on, for all the latest information and e-services for doing business in Singapore. In addition, by answering a few simple questions on the portal, they can receive tailored recommendations from its e-Adviser feature – from the kind of government grants suited for their transformation journey, or how to start and grow a business.  

9 As of January 2022, close to 43,000 businesses have used the GoBusiness portal to apply for government assistance, and over 56,000 have benefitted from the e-Advisers’ personalised recommendations. We encourage our companies, entrepreneurs, business owners to make full use of this business-friendly online resource.

Opportunities to do business with the Government

10 On this note, I wish to assure Mr Derrick Goh that while the government aims to achieve greater efficiencies through technology and streamlining processes, we’re also mindful of the need to ensure an inclusive playing field of opportunities. We hear his concerns that the use of Demand Aggregation procurement by VITAL could limit opportunities for SMEs to be appointed on the Government’s panel of suppliers and providers.

11 In the demand aggregation tender involving the events management industry late last year, a decision was made after feedback from the industry, to structure the contract such that, in addition to lower financial barriers, smaller event management companies could have a chance to be appointed onto the panel. This also led to a doubling in the number of bids attracted. I want to assure Mr Goh that wherever it is appropriate, we aim to structure the procurement in such a way that a range of suppliers of different profiles and sizes can take part, so as to offer business opportunities for as many enterprises as possible.

C. Boosting productivity and manpower support for Food Services and Retail Sectors

12 COVID-19 has hit some sectors very hard, and we will continue to avail support to those that need it. As Mr Edward Chia pointed out, consumer-facing businesses are bearing the prolonged impact of the pandemic. The Small Business Recovery Grant will provide up to $10,000 per firm in the most affected sectors to help these SMEs regain their footing and build back their strength.

13 In the last two years, the Food Services and Retail sectors have battled waves of disruptions time and time again – from restrictions to closures, to changing consumer preferences and pressures to digitalise, as well as manpower shortages.  With the accelerated pace of change and fast-emerging consumer trends, the food and retail sectors have to continue to transform themselves. 

14 Today, I am happy to announce that we will be introducing the $70mil Food Services and Retail Business Revitalisation Package to help our Food Services and Retail companies overcome these challenges. We want to help them recover. We want to them get stronger. We want to help them forge ahead with new strength. The new Food Services and Retail Business Revitalisation Package will incorporate:

a. One,  Extend crucial support for businesses in these sectors to improve their productivity, and equip them with the capabilities to pivot and transform, so as to stay competitive and relevant; and
b. Two,  Help companies beef up manpower in the hiring and training of locals.

15 Hence, we will extend the 80% support level of the Enterprise Development Grant (EDG) and relevant solutions under the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) for the Food Services and Retail sectors till 31 March 2023. This extension under the Food Services and Retail Business Revitalisation Package will give our F&B and our retail businesses more scope and opportunities to adapt and transform, and better position themselves for the future.

16 Let me share one example. Since 2020, Dian Xiao Er has tapped on the EDG for three projects to enhance their central kitchen. One of the projects involves the development of a first-of-its-kind, automated duck conveyor system, which helps cut the preparation time for 1,500 ducks by about one third. 

17 With less manual work required in the duck preparation process, Dian Xiao Er retrained their staff to take on other roles. For example, by taking on duties in their manufacturing central kitchen. The company estimates that these three projects have saved them at least $60,000 per month on operating costs. By sharing this example, I hope that our food services and retail companies will make full use of the newly introduced $70mil Food Services and Retail Business Revitalisation Package and enable more firms like Dian Xiao Er to continue pursuing their business transformation efforts so as to stay competitive and future-ready.

18 Chairman, we also recognise that manpower challenges continue to feature at the top of the Food Services and Retail sectors’ concerns. Together with industry associations such as the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) and the Singapore Retailers’ Association (SRA), we will double up on our efforts to support the hiring and training of local jobseekers.

19 This will include promoting local talent development programmes such as the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways programme and the Career Conversion Programmes (CCPs), as well as intensifying our outreach to jobseekers, and supporting the sectors’ training needs.

20 I am also pleased to update the House and Mr Edward Chia that all Government landlords and major private sector landlords have adopted the Code of Conduct for the Leasing of Retail Premises since 1 June 2021. We can look forward to updates to the Code from the Fair Tenancy Industry Committee (FTIC) in the coming weeks.  These updates will then provide us with additional clarity and details on the implementation of the Code as its legal enactment gets underway.

D. Transforming the Tourism Sector for a Post-COVID World

21 Chairman, our tourism sector keeps Singapore connected to the rest of the world and maintains our position as a global-Asia node. COVID-19 has hit the tourism sector very hard, but despite the challenges, we have continued to quickly adapt and pivot to new propositions to come back even stronger. We will continue to support our tourism sector’s efforts to recover, innovate and come back stronger than before. 

22 To answer Mr Shawn Huang’s questions about our plans to support our tourism sector’s recovery, allow me to share some of our strategies and plans.

23 First, STB will accelerate its SingapoReimagine international recovery campaign, in tandem with the resumption of international travel. STB is now working with a wide range of partners around the world – such as airlines, travel agents and media outlets – to maintain Singapore’s position as a global-Asia node to attract more travellers here.

24 Second, we will help tourism companies develop attractive, new products and experiences. Members will remember the SingapoRediscovers Vouchers (SRV) scheme last year, which generated nearly $300 million in SRV-related bookings and transactions, and up to $100 million in ancillary spending. The SRV was part of a larger effort, the SingapoRediscovers campaign, which is still ongoing. 

25 Through this campaign, STB works with hotels, attractions and tour operators to create new products and experiences that appeal not only to Singaporeans but also to visitors when they return to Singapore. For example, the tour operator Let’s Go Tour Singapore developed new and unique programmes in the course of the SRV scheme and as a result, enjoyed a three-fold jump in their revenue compared to pre-COVID-19 times. STB will continue to engage and support tourism companies so that Singapore will have a broader and richer range of unique experiences and products that differentiate us from other cities. 

26 Third, we will defend our position as a leading destination for high-quality business and leisure events. We hit a “pause” button on these because of Covid-19, but STB is now gearing up to resume large-scale, high-quality business and leisure events from this year. Members will remember that  two weeks ago, the Singapore Air Show 2022 welcomed an estimated 13,000 trade attendees and almost 600 exhibitors from over 39 countries. 

27 Later this year, we will welcome many more industry-leading events, such as the Global Health Security Conference 2022 and FIND – Design Fair Asia 2022, as well as the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix and the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. These events will not only directly benefit the tourism sector but will also ensure that Singapore remains a top-of-mind destination.

28 Fourth, we will continue to co-create innovative tech and digital solutions with the tourism sector. Over the past three years, STB’s Singapore Tourism Accelerator Programme supported 34 promising tech start-ups in developing solutions to future-proof the tourism industry. 

29 Let me quote one example. One of them is BuzzAR. This is a local start-up which offers Augmented Reality solutions. BuzzAR developed gamified wayfinding solutions for hospitality partners to enhance their customer engagement.Beyond the Accelerator programme, BuzzAR is now planning to tap on opportunities in the metaverse, to support tourism businesses in developing immersive experiences for customers.

30 Fifth, we will double down on efforts to upskill the tourism sector workforce, to ensure that tourism workers are ready to meet changing job demands. Over the past two years, STB and WSG supported over 140 tourism companies through various CCPs. This helped more than 1,300 workers to take on redesigned and enhanced roles. STB has also set up the Tourism Careers Hub pilot, jointly with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), and the 5 main travel Trade Associations and Chambers, to provide job facilitation, skills training, and business transformation. 

E. Strengthening Industry Partnerships

Boosting our TACs

31 Chairman, to complement the suite of support that the Government has directly rolled out to businesses, we will continue to work closely with partners such as the Trade Association and Chambers (TACs) on collective action to transform and better position our industries for the future. 

32 As the eyes, ears and mouth of their members, TACs play an important role in the sectors that they represent. This was a point highlighted by many members yesterday – Mr Raj Joshua Thomas, Ms Janet Ang and other members as well. I am of the view that the TACs’ role can be easily summarised as ‘ABC’: 

a. ‘A’, The TACs advocate their members’ interests,
b. ‘B’, They help their members by bridging communications between their members and the government, 
c. ‘C’, They help their members by Collaborating with others, including from other sectors, to capture new opportunities for their industry. 

33 Two months ago, I attended the launch of the TAC Competency Framework and TAC Growth Model which was developed by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI) with the support of the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), Enterprise Singapore, and SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG). Through this initiative, SCCCI and SBF aim to reach out to at least 150 TACs on upskilling their secretariats, to raise TACs’ capabilities, and to add value to businesses.  

34 I would like to assure Ms Janet Ang, Mr Raj Joshua Thomas and Mr Derrick Goh that this year, the Government will redouble our efforts to uplift TACs by building their capabilities, developing their leadership and enhancing their talent attraction strategies.

35 I would like to announce three new programmes that aim to uplift TAC capabilities, especially in digital adoption and leadership development.

36 First, to help TACs digitalise, SBF will partner SGTech to launch the Digitalisation of TACs programme, or in short, “Digi-TAC”. Eligible TACs can access a range of digital solutions and training courses curated to equip TAC staff with basic e-capabilities that will help raise their productivity and efficiency.  

37 Second, SBF will launch a new TAC Fellowship Programme to enable TACs to develop their leaders and build a leadership pipeline. We will support secretariat members and TAC leaders nominated by their TACs to attend the TAC Leadership Development Programme so as to boost their leadership capabilities.

38 Third, to boost the TAC talent pool, SBF will, with the support from Enterprise Singapore and SCCCI, develop a TAC Leadership Accelerator Programme. This programme seeks to attract talented, high-performing mid-career professionals with industry-relevant experience to join our TACs, and to take industry transformation efforts to a higher plane. To become effective leaders in industry development, the candidates will undergo a mix of classroom training and mentorship programmes, and gain on-the-job experience in the participating TACs.

39 I am very heartened that SBF, as the apex business chamber, has stepped forward as an anchor and advocate for a stronger TAC community to help our businesses grow. More details on the new programmes will be available later this year.

Working with CASE to ensure a fair market for consumers and businesses

40 Chairman, in the area of partnerships with the industry, MTI is working closely with different industry representatives to form the Committee Against Profiteering (CAP). I am grateful that many Members of the House welcomed the aims and work of the CAP that Minister Lawrence Wong announced during Budget two weeks ago. 

41 I want to assure Mr Sharael Taha that the CAP will investigate businesses that raise prices of essential products and services unjustifiably using the GST increase as an excuse. I have heard many members during the Budget debate talk about this and they have rightly pointed out that with the global spectre of inflation, some businesses may have legitimate reasons to raise prices. Our job in the CAP will be to look into errant practices flagged out by the public and bring to task those who unfairly profiteer using GST increase as a reason. We want to ensure that businesses keep their prices transparent, and do not misrepresent the reasons for any of the price increase. The Committee will share more details on its work in the coming weeks.

42 I would also like to take this opportunity to thank CASE and President Mr Melvin Yong for the strong partnership in safeguarding the interests of our consumers. We assure Mr Yong that we will review his constructive suggestions made yesterday, to strengthen our consumer protection regime. We will work closely with CASE and the industry to better protect and empower consumers and at the same time create greater opportunities for businesses in Singapore. 

F. Transforming Our Heartland Enterprises and Reimagining Possibilities

43 Chairman, I would now like to take the opportunity to touch on another important group of businesses, one that is very close to our homes and hearts – our heartland enterprises. 

44 Mr Shawn Huang said it very well yesterday during his delivery of the cut. He said that our heartland enterprises are the heartbeat of our community and I completely agree with him. The shops in our heartlands form a central thread of Singapore’s social fabric and everyday lives. Many Singaporeans grew up with these “mom and pop shops”. They play an important role in our neighbourhood – providing convenience and affordable goods and services at our doorstep, as well as jobs for Singaporeans near their homes. 

45 Our heartland spaces are also fertile ground for the birth and growth of many well-loved local enterprises. For example, do you know that homegrown bakery Bengawan Solo started out in an HDB block at Marine Terrace? Over the years, it has expanded to become a household name, serving both local and international customers. With their affordable rent and ample pool of residents as customers, heartland spaces are ideal incubators for the next generation of notable Singaporean brands. 

46 Many budding entrepreneurs have seized this opportunity and have launched their dreams in the heartlands. We can now often find businesses with very fresh and very cool concepts in our neighbourhoods, like gourmet burgers or even novel pets. I’ve come to know Mr Lee Syafiq of Ashes Burnnit. He leads a very young team and he is only 30 years old. He and his team serve up delicious gourmet burgers across four hawker centres and coffeeshops in Singapore. We want to do more to nurture and launch fresh entrepreneurs in our very own heartlands. 

47 In recent years, heartland enterprises face various challenges arising from changing consumer behaviour and rising competition, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.  We will continue to work with our partners and not let up in our efforts to help our heartland shops stay competitive and relevant. 

48 One of the key initiatives that we rolled out in October 2020 was the Heartlands Go Digital Programme (HGD), which aims to help our heartland enterprises respond to the COVID-19 situation, adapt to new consumption patterns, and leverage digital commerce.  

49 I am happy to report that as of February 2022, 85% or about 14,500 of our heartland enterprises have adopted e-payment solutions such as NETS, Fave, Grab, or PayNow. In fact, more than half (58% or around 9,900) are now onboard digital channels and e-commerce platforms such as Carousell, Fave, Shopee, and set up a Google My Business page to create an online presence.  

50 This progress is a great step forward for many of the “mom and pop” shops that were using only cash, and operating strictly as a brick and mortar store just two years ago before COVID-19 pandemic. The heartland enterprises truly deserve our admiration and praise for their resilience and can-do spirit! We will build on this momentum to bring our heartland enterprises onto a higher plane and into a brighter future. Enterprise Singapore will be launching a new initiative called Our Heartlands 2025, which we estimate will cost about $50 million to help our heartland enterprises increase revenue, improve operational efficiency, thereby reducing cost and expanding their customer base both online and offline.

51 The four-year programme to energise and support our heartland shops will seek to:
a. One, deepen the digital and manpower capabilities of our heartland shops;
b. Two, upgrade the capabilities of our TACss; and,
c. Three, revitalise the heartlands and heartland shops to attract more customers.

52 Let me share some new initiatives under this roadmap.

Deepening the digital capabilities across heartland shops and upskilling the workforce

53 Firstly, deepening digital and manpower capabilities will help businesses diversify revenue and increase operational efficiency thereby reducing costs. Mr Shawn Huang will be glad to note that under Our Heartlands 2025, we aim to further expand our digitalisation efforts, so that 9 in 10 shops will adopt at least one digital solution. 

54 Under this new roadmap, heartland enterprises will be equipped progressively via the HGD. In addition, we will accelerate our outreach to merchants and encourage them to take up solutions and training in financial and inventory management, as well as venture into online sales through other e-commerce vendors and subsidised solutions. 

55 Besides digital capabilities, we will widen the reach of the current Heartland Visual Merchandising Programme to increase their offline capabilities and attract more customers and improve sales. 

Upgrading the capabilities of our TAC partners to amplify and multiply our initiatives in the heartlands

56 Another key thrust of Our Heartlands 2025 programme is to improve and deepen the capabilities of our TAC partners who are active in our heartlands. As I had mentioned earlier, TACs are important partners in helping our enterprises grow and transform. 

57 To support the needs of our heartland enterprises and their transformation journey, we will strengthen and develop capabilities of the Federation of Merchants’ Associations Singapore (FMAS), the Heartland Enterprise Centre Singapore (HECS) as well as local merchants’ associations (MAs).  

58 This will involve training their secretariat in aspects such as project management, precinct rejuvenation, and financial management. We will also support FMAS in launching a shared secretariat for local MAs, and this will free up more time and resources for the local MAs to help their member shops adopt solutions to increase their revenue and to improve their efficiency.

59 Chairman, we are committed to helping our heartland shops gear up for the future through Our Heartlands 2025. In the next few years, we hope to see them grow their revenue, boost their operational efficiency, and attract new customers into our vibrant heartlands.

CDC vouchers: Encouraging expenditure amongst our heartland enterprises

60 On that note, we are looking forward to the heartlands attracting more Singaporeans to eat, shop and spend using the Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers. You may recall that about $130 million worth of vouchers were given out in December 2021. The Government recently committed another $650 million in CDC vouchers, which will be distributed over 2022 to 2024. 

61 To date, more than 1.1mil Singaporean households, which translate to 90.6 percent of Singaporean households, have claimed the first tranche of $130mil in CDC vouchers and $62 million worth of vouchers have been spent in the last three months. Overall, more than 91 percent of participating businesses have received CDC voucher transactions. 

62 The number of participating outlets in the CDC voucher scheme has grown to more than 14,500. We are very heartened that our heartland merchants and hawkers recognise the benefit of the CDC vouchers and hope that Singaporeans will continue to support our heartland enterprises. 

63 Chairman may I have your permission to say a few words in Mandarin, please.

64 主席,受到冠病疫情的影响,我国中小企业过去两年,举步维艰。在这期间,政府推出了多项援助计划和补贴,除了帮助我们的本地中小企业应对营运方面的挑战,也同时希望鼓励大家加快转型的步伐,改变经营模式,以提高生产力,还有提升企业的可持续性。

65 我们也意识到一些行业,需要额外的援助。接下来,我们将推出总值7千万元 的《餐饮和零售业振兴配套》,双管齐下协助我们的业者把握增长的机遇:

a. 首先,持续推动餐饮业和零售业者的转型,鼓励业者探讨新颖的经营模式,以提高生产力,维持竞争力

b. 第二,协助餐饮业和零售业者,聘请和培训更多本地员工,优化我们的人力资源管理

66 说到餐饮和零售,我们一定不能忘记 遍布全岛各个邻里中心的商店和小贩摊位。我们的邻里中心为我们提供经济、实惠又多元化的商品,个人化的服务,也同时为我们的社区注入活力,为国人提供靠近住家的就业机会,对我国经济和社区的发展,至关重要。
67 刚才我和大家分享了《邻里企业数码化计划》,和《视觉营销计划》等等。这些计划推出之后,贸工部和企发局积极地收集和聆听了商家以及商联会的反馈,经过进一步的协商和策划,企发局将再接再厉,启动一项长达4年的《2025邻里新天地》计划,希望继续推动邻里中心和邻里企业的发展。 

a. 《2025邻里新天地》计划,预计拨款多达5千万元,希望进一步强化商联会的功能,协助邻里企业采纳科技、加速数码转型;

b. 同时加强突破创新,更好地满足顾客多元化的需求,以及日新月异的消费习惯,打造更有特色的邻里。

68 财政部长黄循财,在两个星期前发表财政预算案时,也宣布了为新一轮的社理会邻里购物券拨款高达6亿5千万元,这笔拨款将从2022年至2024年间,分批发放,希望鼓励国人到邻里中心消费,促进邻里经济的持续复苏。

69 去年12月发放的社理会邻里购物券,截至目前已经有多达一百一十万户家庭,也就是高达百分之90.6的新加坡家庭领取,消费金额高达6千2百万元。在目前加入计划的1万4千5百家邻里商店和小贩当中,就有超过百分之91已经收取了邻里购物券。接下来,我们希望更多邻里商家加入这项计划,从政府的拨款中受惠。

70 主席,我们社区里的邻里中心,除了是我们大家购物和享用美食的地方,更是我们大家的情感联络站。政府将继续和商联会以及企业伙伴紧密合作,为我们的邻里企业创造商机,为我们的邻里中心注入活力,齐心协力打造更有凝聚力的邻里和社区。

G. Conclusion: Building our Economy Together as One

71 Chairman, we have all come a long way in our fight against the pandemic. Despite the challenges, the last two years have brought new opportunities and growth. This has been possible because of our Singapore can-do spirit. Our journey of learning and transformation continues. As long as we’re on this path together, we can take courage and strength that we do not walk alone. 

72 Together, we can build back better and stronger. To chart our way forward and scale new heights as one Singapore. 

73 Thank you. 

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