SMEs urged to take advantage of Singapore's free trade, digital economy network

FTAs enhance Singapore's trade connectivity and standing as a global trading hub, said Minister of Transport S. Iswaran. - ST FILE

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Local companies, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), should capitalise on opportunities offered by Singapore's expanding network of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) and digital economy pacts, Minister of Transport S. Iswaran said on Friday (March 25).

Speaking at the Singapore Apex Business Summit at Marina Bay Sands, Iswaran, who is also the Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations, said the global economy continues to face profound challenges, including geopolitical tensions, inflationary pressures, supply chain disruptions, anti-globalisation sentiments, and more recently, the after effects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

However, he noted that uncertainty can also bring forth opportunities. For instance the Covid-19 pandemic catalysed digitalisation, especially among SMEs, most of whom were not as enthusiastic about it before.

He said more than 80,000 SMEs have adopted digital solutions from the Infocomm Media Development Authority's SMEs Go Digital programme in the past few years.

"As we navigate these challenges and seize new opportunities, more than ever, trade remains integral to the survival and success of Singapore's economy," he said in his keynote speech at the Summit's FTA Day 2022, organised by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF).

He said FTAs enhance Singapore's trade connectivity and standing as a global trading hub, and also underpin the Trade 2030 strategy that seeks to widen the range of trading activities, enhance the benefits of re-exports and transshipment flows, and embed Singapore more deeply into global supply chains.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry launched the Trade 2030 strategy earlier this month. It is aimed at growing Singapore's exports from $805 billion to at least $1 trillion and doubling offshore trade value to US$2 trillion ($2.71 trillion).

Iswaran said local household brand Prima Taste, which sells packed ingredients of popular hawker dishes such as Laksa, Nonya curry and Chili Crab, was one of the companies that has benefitted from Singapore's growing network of FTAs.

He added that Prima's products are sold in over 40 countries, facilitated by preferential market access through FTAs.

"With the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for TransPacific Partnership (CPTPP), Prima also enjoys reduced time-to-market through the agreement's trade facilitating provisions on customs procedures and sanitary requirements."

The minister said the Government will further strengthen Singapore's trade foundations by broadening the geographical coverage of trade agreements and by deepening existing partnerships through new initiatives such as digital and green economy agreements.

The Government, he said, will also work with like-minded trading partners in setting new standards that pave the way for wider adoption globally.

"Taken together, the span, depth and innovative elements of Singapore's trade agreements hold much promise for our businesses, and opportunities for our people," said the minister.

Iswaran urged local companies of all sizes to tap on capacity-building initiatives, such as the outreach sessions organised by SBF and Enterprise Singapore, to reap the full benefits of FTAs.

Businesses can also tap other programmes such as Enterprise Singapore's Tariff Finder, a complimentary self-help online tool, and the Market Readiness Assistance (MRA) grant, which provides specific information and consultancy services.

Singapore has an extensive network of 27 FTAs, encompassing almost 90 per cent of its total trade. The Republic has also concluded four Digital Economy Agreements (DEAs) with five countries - Australia, Chile, New Zealand, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.

Iswaran, in a separate dialogue session at the Summit, said the need for these trade agreements arises because the Word Trade Organisation's rules and standards setting process is by nature slow moving because of its diverse membership.

"What we strive to do is to complement (WTO's) very strong multilateral trade foundation with plurilateral and bilateral agreements. The reality is that the world is a messy place and we have to learn to navigate through this," he said.

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