S’pore companies to get more help with breaking into Asean markets

SINGAPORE – Businesses in Singapore will get more support to expand into the South-east Asian region, which remains a bright spot despite the uncertain outlook for the global economy.

The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) on Thursday renewed and expanded the scope of an agreement with UOB to support the internationalisation of Singapore businesses, particularly in the Asean region.

Among other things, both organisations will be able to cross-refer requests for assistance, including for in-market investment advice, talent solutions, relevant service providers and credible local contacts.

SBF also signed a new agreement with software solutions providers Y3 Technologies, under which local businesses will get help with expanding their presence in Asean and beyond through e-commerce platforms and services, such as logistics and order fulfilment.

The deals were inked at the seventh edition of the Asean Conference at Raffles City Convention Centre.

SBF chairman Lim Ming Yan said at the conference that the digital economy and green economy are two emerging areas that present “vast opportunities” for South-east Asia.

“Despite the headwinds, the South-east Asia region remains a bright spot in the global economy, with a young and vibrant consumer market of over 650 million people,” he said.

He noted that SBF’s National Business Survey 2022/2023 of more than 900 companies across different industries showed that over 70 per cent are keen to expand into Asean, making it the most popular region for internationalisation.

Connections with the right business partners are particularly important to small and medium-sized enterprises that may lack local resources and partners, said UOB deputy chairman and chief executive Wee Ee Cheong during his opening keynote at the conference.

Describing how UOB helps Singapore companies expand overseas, Mr Wee said: “We also help companies to understand the local regulatory landscape – in a region as diverse as Asean, there is a need for local adaptation due to cultural nuances, which can be complex for businesses.”

Citing an example, he said that UOB worked with the Malaysian Investment Development Authority to fast-track a solar energy company’s efforts to set up its operations in Malaysia two years ago.

Asean is Singapore’s largest trading partner in goods and Singapore’s largest investment destination. In 2022, Singapore’s total trade in goods with Asean amounted to $344.3 billion, an increase of about 19 per cent over the previous year. Singapore invested $23.9 billion into Asean in 2022, up 8 per cent from the previous year.

Speaking at a dialogue session at Thursday’s conference, Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong said that Asean as a collective economy is “a very powerful proposition”.

Digitalisation and sustainability are two areas for collaboration among member states, said Mr Gan, highlighting the Digital Economy Framework Agreement which seeks to set a framework for collaboration within Asean on digitalisation. Digitalisation includes aspects such as digital trade facilitation, digital payment, and digital financing, he said.