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Speech by Second Minister for Trade and Industry Tan See Leng at Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI)’s Committee Of Supply Debate 2022

Speech by Second Minister for Trade and Industry Tan See Leng at Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI)’s Committee Of Supply Debate 2022

“Developing Enterprises of the Future”

A. Preamble

1. Our local enterprises are a critical part of Singapore’s growth story. They account for almost 70% of jobs in Singapore and have the potential to help us venture into new growth areas, create solutions for the world and reimagine Singapore’s economy.

2. Riding on the global economic recovery last year, we registered a strong economic performance, and had projected GDP growth of 3% - 5% for 2022. Minister Gan has earlier shared in this House that it is still too early to estimate the actual impact on Singapore’s economic growth this year, given the conflict in Ukraine. The situation is fast evolving and there will be greater uncertainties. 

B. Enterprise 2030

3. In an increasingly volatile environment, the only way to navigate these challenges is to strengthen our resilience and accelerate our transformation. Despite the pandemic, many of our local enterprises have not sat still. They have pressed on with transformation, and are now in a stronger position to rebound and to capture new growth. They have sought to turn the crisis into an opportunity of a generation. This is the spirit that will power the Enterprise 2030 strategy. 

4. Ms Jessica Tan and Ms Janet Ang asked how we are supporting our local enterprises to grow and compete globally. The Enterprise 2030 strategy is our response to ensure that we can build and sustain a vibrant ecosystem of Singapore enterprises that are future-ready and possess deep capabilities to compete globally. 

5. We will achieve this in two ways. First, we must support the growth of high potential companies to become global champions. Second, we will strengthen the core capabilities of the broader base of local enterprises in industry transformation. Let me elaborate each of these strategies.

Accelerate growth of high potential companies to become Singapore Global Enterprises

6. Over the last few years, we have witnessed the emergence of a new generation of local champions. We now have 22 home-grown startups that have reached unicorn status. Many of our home-grown companies such as Secretlab, Hegen and Nanofilm, have made a name for themselves internationally.

7. These are the bright spots in our enterprise landscape. We will intensify our efforts to identify, nurture and grow many more promising local enterprises. To do so, we will launch an initiative to cultivate a new generation of Singapore Global Enterprises which are locally grown and globally competitive.

8. Both Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Economic Development Board (EDB) will provide more bespoke and enterprise-centric assistance to enterprises with strong growth potential and global ambitions which are tailored to their specific needs and individual growth ambitions. We will also harness resources across the Whole-of-Government and our partners to support each of these high potential enterprises in areas such as innovation, internationalisation, and fostering partnerships with other firms. 

9. For a start, we will enhance our support for these high potential companies in four ways: (a) developing global-ready executives, (b) creating new corporate ventures, (c) facilitating Mergers & Acquisitions, and (d) creating enhanced access to financing.

10. Mr Shawn Huang and Mr Saktiandi Supaat asked how we will continue to ensure that firms have access to the talent they need. As Mr Liang Eng Hwa  has pointed out, the answer lies in growing our own “timber”, providing the space and opportunity to nurture and support Singaporeans to be part of the growth stories of many more promising home-grown enterprises. We will launch the Singapore Global Executive Programme (SGEP) to boost the human capital capabilities of our high potential local enterprises and support them in talent attraction and retention, as well as leadership succession programmes to develop a pipeline of future leaders – not just locally, but globally.

11. We have also been exploring new ways to support companies in creating new business ventures. Last year, EDB launched the Corporate Venture Launchpad, a pilot programme to support companies to incubate and launch new businesses within a 6-month sprint. As part of this programme, Keppel Land is venturing into digital well-being, companion care and connectivity solutions for eldercare, in line with its ambition to become a leading player in the Senior Living sector. 

12. Given the positive feedback from the pilot programme, we will expand the Corporate Venture Launchpad to support a wider range of companies. 

13. We know it takes courage and gumption to scale a business. To help our enterprises on this journey, EDB will be launching a Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) grant to co-fund the qualifying spend on Singapore-based professional and financial advisory services incurred on the M&A deal. 

14. We have also launched three funds recently to provide capital to accelerate the growth of our enterprises, broaden the range of fundraising options and help them work towards an eventual public listing, or liquidity event, in Singapore. These funds are the Local Enterprises Fund @ 65 and the Anchor Fund @ 65 which are set up in partnership with Temasek, as well as the Growth IPO Fund managed by EDB Investments (EDBI). Ms Jessica Tan asked about the progress of the Local Enterprises Fund. 65 Equity Partners, a wholly-owned investment platform of Temasek, has been managing this fund and engaging promising local enterprises. We have seen good interest in the fund since its launch. But these are still early days and many of these plans will take time and a certain runway to finalise. 

Strengthen core capabilities, press on with industry transformation

15. Let me now move on to my second pillar of Enterprise 2030 – To strengthen the core capabilities of our local enterprises. 

16. We will step up efforts to help the broad base of SMEs in four key areas: (a) Capabilities Development, (b) Internationalisation, (c) Digitalisation, and (d) Innovation.

17. First, in capabilities development.

a. We have rolled out a comprehensive suite of programmes to support both our enterprises and our workers. I will elaborate on our key shifts.  

b. Ms Jessica Tan, Mr Edward Chia and Ms Janet Ang asked how the Government will foster stronger partnerships between MNCs or Large Local Enterprises (LLEs) and SMEs seize new opportunities. We will work with SkillsFuture Singapore to onboard MNCs and large local enterprises who are “Queen Bees” to curate industry-relevant training courses in emerging growth areas, such as robotics and Industry 4.0. 

c. Another initiative is the Partnerships for Capability Transformation or “PACT” scheme. Under this scheme, we have supported collaborations between large companies and smaller SMEs through co-innovation, internationalisation projects, as well as costs of supplier qualification processes. 

d. Since its inception in 2010, the Government has set aside more than S$150 million to support these projects which have benefitted over 2,000 Singapore-based companies. 

e. I’m happy to announce that we will be extending the enhanced support levels for PACT to 31 March 2023. Companies can qualify up to 70% for manpower and consultancy costs, and up to 50% for hardware and equipment costs. I strongly urge interested enterprises to get in touch with our agencies for more details.

18. Second, on the internationalisation thrust. 

a. I thank Ms Janet Ang for her suggestion that large local enterprises (LLEs) can take a step further to lend their networks to create business opportunities for local enterprises. We have been working with many LLEs to do so, and will adopt a more concerted “Team Singapore” approach in our internationalisation strategy and bring onboard SMEs to collectively access overseas markets.

b. I’m encouraged that 1,600 local enterprises embarked on internationalisation projects last year. This is in spite of current travel restrictions. 

c. Many of these enterprises have gained a foothold in key markets through our support networks such as the GlobalConnect @ Singapore Business Federation, as well as leveraged ESG’s international match-making platforms such as the Open Innovation Network to connect and co-innovate with other industry players. 

d. We will intensify efforts through these international partnerships and networks to help our SMEs deepen their presence in key markets and pursue opportunities in new ones.

19. Thirdly, digitalisation.  

a. Ms Jessica Tan, Mr Liang Eng Hwa and Mr Desmond Choo asked how we are helping firms to digitalise, strengthen capabilities, and capture new opportunities in the digital economy. One way we are doing so is through the SMEs Go Digital initiative, which supports SMEs in the adoption of digital solutions for basic business functions, online transactions, and other more advanced solutions. More than 80,000 firms have benefitted from the initiative since it was launched in 2017. 

b. In addition, firms can also tap on funding support from ESG’s Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) and Enterprise Development Grant (EDG). As announced in the Budget Speech, we will expand the range of solutions under the PSG, to include new technologies and more sector-specific solutions to deepen capabilities in areas such as cybersecurity and data analytics, which will increasingly become essential skillsets. 

c. I would like to thank Mr Desmond Choo, Ms Foo Mee Har and Mr Derrick Goh for their feedback to strengthen the digitalisation capabilities of our SMEs. On Mr Choo’s suggestion to help SMEs tap on a pool of tech talent, this is exactly why IMDA has launched the CTO-as-a-Service scheme. As the name suggests, SMEs can engage a pool of digital consultants for in-depth advisory and project management services. MCI will share more on the digitalisation initiatives at their Committee of Supply debate. We will also study Ms Foo’s suggestion to replicate the CTO-as-a-service scheme to other functions. 

d. On Mr Goh’s point to provide more holistic support for companies, I want to highlight that the schemes I mentioned earlier are part of a comprehensive suite of tools to support our enterprises in each stage of their growth.  Indeed, more can be done to raise awareness and help our SMEs understand how the various tools can support their needs, as mentioned by both Ms Rahayu Mahzam and Mr Shawn Huang. I encourage enterprises to reach out to Enterprise Singapore and our network of SME Centres for free one-on-one business advisory. 

20. Lastly, innovation.  

a. Mr Desmond Choo and Mr Liang Eng Hwa asked how the Government is supporting enterprises in their innovation and R&D journey. Under our RIE 2025 plan, we will sustain investments in research, innovation and enterprise at 1% of Singapore’s GDP, or S$25 billion, from 2021 to 2025. 

b. Over the years, we have taken a more enterprise-centric approach to help SMEs build their innovation capabilities and translate their innovations into new products and services. Since 2003, more than 950 A*STAR Research Scientists and Engineers have been seconded to support over 850 local SMEs in product development as part of A*STAR’s Technology for Enterprise Capability Upgrading programme, or T-UP. ESG has also enhanced its Innovation Advisors Programme to partner industry veterans with SMEs to commericalise their research. These are significant efforts to help our SMEs scale up their capabilities in-house.

c. We have also reaped the fruits of our labour. In the fight against COVID-19, the A*STAR’s Experimental Drug Development Centre (EDDC) collaborated with the Diagnostics Development Hub and Tan Tock Seng Hospital to develop the Fortitude COVID-19 test kit, the first lab diagnostic kit to receive Provisional Authorisation from Singapore’s Health Science Authority (HSA) for clinical use. The Fortitude kit has been deployed in Singapore and more than 40 countries globally. 

d. Apart from COVID-19 related innovations, we are also encouraged to see more local firms innovating and moving up the value chain. I visited another local startup, Ion Mobility last year to unveil its flagship product, the ION Mobius. It is a smart electric motorbike which was conceptualised, designed and assembled in Singapore. Its proprietary battery pack allows riders to cover a distance of up to 200km on a single charge, and its interface settings can also be changed with the rider’s smartphone.   

e. We have invested substantial resources and efforts in building innovation capabilities, and I agree with Mr Desmond Choo that beyond Government support, importantly, our enterprises must also embrace the spirit of innovation as a core capability. I’m excited to see how our enterprises will push the boundaries to create solutions for the world.

C. Near-term challenges

21. After having set out our longer-term plans, I would like to address some of our near-term challenges. Minister for Finance and Minister for Trade and Industry have touched on many of these issues. I would like to explain how we are addressing rising electricity prices and manpower constraints.

Electricity prices

22. Mr Liang Eng Hwa asked about the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on our energy supply. Mr Derrick Goh also asked how we are supporting consumers due to rising energy prices and whether these help measures could be extended. 

23. While Singapore’s sources of fuel are diversified and the conflict in Ukraine poses limited direct risks to our supplies, we will be affected by the high or volatile global gas prices arising from the conflict.

24. However, I would like to assure all consumers that we will spare no effort to ensure that Singapore’s energy supply remains secure and reliable. As Minister for Trade and Industry and I have explained in this House, MTI and EMA have put in place various measures to safeguard energy security, and help consumers cope with rising electricity costs. These include ensuring that generation companies have sufficient fuel reserves, establishing a Standby Fuel Facility which generation companies can tap on to produce electricity, and working with the generation companies and electricity retailers to offer fixed price contracts under the Temporary Retail Electricity Contracting Support (TRECS) scheme. EMA is also working with them to offer longer-term, fixed price contracts to consumers who wish to have more price stability. We have since extended TRECS from March to May 2022, and we will extend it further if necessary.

25. I understand the cost pressures faced by households and businesses. 

26. We will continue to monitor market developments, and we will not hesitate to introduce further measures, if necessary, to support vulnerable consumers. Eligible households will continue to receive U-Save rebates to support them with their utility expenses. Businesses which need financing support can tap on the loans offered by ESG. 

27. I agree with Mr Liang Eng Hwa that we can enhance energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption. In fact, we have rolled out a series of measures to encourage consumers to do so, by re-designing electricity bills to benchmark individual consumption across other similar users, and mandating energy-intensive companies to implement energy conservation and energy management practices. However, we cannot embark and succeed on this journey alone. We urge all consumers to use energy prudently and adopt energy conservation as a way of life. 

28. I would like to assure this House that even as we address the near-term challenges in the energy sector, we remain committed to planning for the future. We are pressing ahead with our efforts to advance the energy transition and decarbonise the power sector. Minister Gan will elaborate more on this in the Joint Segment on the Singapore Green Plan.

Manpower 

29. Let me now turn to manpower. 

30. Domestically, the labour market in Singapore has tightened over the past year due to economic recovery and international border restrictions. Many businesses continue to find it challenging to access the manpower they require, especially in areas where there are skill shortages. As Mr Shawn Huang and Mr Saktiandi Supaat pointed out, access to highly skilled manpower is a critical challenge we must overcome together, given our aging population, economic uncertainties and the competition for global talent. 

31. Therefore, we have made various adjustments to our foreign worker policies to be more targeted and selective in bringing in high quality and diverse foreign workforce to complement the local workforce. 

32. Mr Cheng Hsing Yao asked whether our foreign workforce policies are dynamic and flexible enough to meet our economic needs. Indeed, this is critical. For example, we had recently launched specific schemes such as the Tech.Pass and Tech@SG to provide firms with access to specialised talent. These schemes have been well-received by companies, with around 180 Tech.Pass holders and more than 50 firms on Tech@SG. We will continue to actively monitor and review these schemes to ensure that they are effective. I will also share more on the refinements to address skill shortages at MOM’s Committee of Supply debate. 

D. Conclusion

33. Mr Chairman, in Mandarin please. 

34. 我们致力于协助本地企业在后冠病时代把握增长机遇。除了采取针对性措施,应对当前的成本压力,以及乌克兰紧张局势所带来的不确定性,我们也必须在全球经济转型和重组的大背景下,加快产业转型的步伐。

35. 政府会鼓励与协助高潜能的企业发展成为全球巨头,及提升中小企业的核心能力,以实现“企业2030愿景”。我们将着重于加强本地中小企业的能力建设,协助它们创新、进行数码转型及迈向国际化。

36. 政府将助你们一臂之力,让我们的中小型企业借东风之势,进攻前进、取得新突破,携手建立更强大、更具韧性和活力的经济。

English translation for Paras 34 – 36

We are committed to support our local enterprises to leverage growth opportunities in a post COVID-19 world. Beyond targeted measures to address immediate cost pressures, we need to accelerate industry transformation efforts, in the light of the global transformation and greater uncertainties caused by the conflict in Ukraine.

As part of our Enterprise 2030 strategy, we will encourage and support the growth of high potential companies to become global champions and strengthen the core capabilities of the broad base of SMEs. In particular, we will intensify efforts in capability development, internationalisation, digitalisation and innovation efforts for our local SMEs. 

We will support SMEs in their journey to uplift themselves and more importantly, innovate, think outside the box in order to transcend our own physical boundaries and constraints to seize opportunities in the future economy.

The Government will support you on this journey.

37. We have set our strategy under Enterprise 2030 which will allow us to set our sights further, plan for the longer-term and put in place the building blocks right now.

38. Importantly, we will need to continuously innovate, think outside the box, and transcend our own physical boundaries and constraints to seize the opportunities of the future economy. 

39. I strongly urge and encourage our enterprises to equip yourselves for the future, press on with transformation and set your sights to become the next Singapore Global Enterprise. The Government will continue to support you in this journey. 

40. Thank you.

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