Singapore: India has been identified as a key investment destination by Singapore and its official investment arm – Enterprise Singapore encouraging local companies to invest in India.
EnterpriseSG is a government agency within Singapore’s Trade and Industry Ministry which supports Singapore SMEs (small and mid-size enterprises) by helping them upgrade their capabilities, innovate, transform and develop internationally.
It also supports the growth of Singapore as a hub for global trading and start-ups and builds trust in Singapore’s products and services through quality and standards. In addition, it develops strategies that enable companies in specific sectors in Singapore to enter new markets, drive regional expansion, and internationalize through alternative formats.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, EnterpriseSG together with other government agencies in Singapore redoubled their efforts to ensure impacted industries were supported through various support and training schemes as well as positioned for growth along with other less impacted organisations when borders re-opened and business returned to normal.
Another case in point is the refreshed Singapore Retail Industry Transformation Map (ITM) 2025 which was launched about a week ago and does exactly that. Its aim is to build a core of global Singapore brands and to uplift the quality of jobs in the sector. It does this with the help of other Singapore government agencies including the Singapore Tourism Board.
This approach has reaped results as Singapore’s economy is one of the fastest growing in Asia at the moment. A poll of economists by Bloomberg projects it to achieve third-quarter growth of 3.9 per cent. Singapore’s financial sector is booming as its COVID strategy has allowed it to safely reopen much faster than regional competitors especially those in North Asia.
While rival financial center Hong Kong is in danger of a talent drain due to the departure of expatriates and locals, Singapore’s finance minister and future prime minister Lawrence Wong are looking to increase financial industry jobs by over 10 per cent by creating 20,000 jobs between now and 2025.
EnterpriseSG assisted around 80 companies in projects in Africa, India and Latin America between January and May. This is 50 per cent more than in the same period in 2019 before the pandemic hit.
The easing of border restrictions also allowed the government agency to resume its physical business missions and visit trade shows. Among the missions that it has led are a mission led by the Singapore Precision Engineering and Technology Association to Mexico in October and a built environment one to Ghana and Ivory Coast in the same month. In early 2023, a mission to India for furniture firms is in the works.
EnterpriseSG also has an in-country presence in many of the countries where it is helping Singapore firms operate. They do this through their 36 overseas centers each headed by a regional director. These centers work with companies in areas such as facilitating business opportunities, sharing policy updates, and helping companies adjust their strategies for entering new markets.
It believes that a diversified global presence enables it to help companies make the first move or adapt to developments quickly. Most Singapore firms usually prefer to expand into nearby and safe markets like Indonesia, Vietnam, or China while places like India, Africa and Latin America seem too far away, unfamiliar and intimidating. However, these markets could hold potential for Singapore companies that want to diversify and grow.
The most recent overseas center was set up in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2018 following growing interest from Singapore firms looking to enter East Africa. Most of the smaller Singaporean firms venturing into these markets do so with the help of local partners, which include joint ventures and distribution partners.
However, Ms Sabrina Ho, regional director of EnterpriseSG’s center in New Delhi feels that there are limitations with a partnership approach as Singapore firms end up having limited exposure to operations on the ground.
This is because most of the work and risk in such partnerships are taken up by the local partner.
“We recommend that companies communicate with their local partners regularly, and consider short-term trips as well, to learn about … the market landscape,” she told The Straits Times, the main English language newspaper in Singapore.
She recommends that firms and start-ups work on building a small in-market presence by deploying executive leadership in India, or by rehiring Indians who have returned from Singapore. This method tends to build a more meaningful and longer-term presence in the market, but Singapore players tend to prefer the partnership approach as it allows them to establish operations more quickly.
Ho further cited how EnterpriseSG has been stepping up on working with partners such as trade associations in India and Singapore, going beyond facilitating business-to-business engagements and networking sessions.
“We work with them to help prime Singapore companies ahead of market entry, as well as build a network of Singapore-based Indian corporates and other contacts for Singapore companies to directly engage, even without entering India directly,” she said.