Sunday, July 17, 2016

Singapore - Japan-Singapore ties: More scope for cooperation

Business, political leaders at forum discuss new opportunities, especially for SMEs

Singapore-Japan ties are already on a solid footing, but the relationship looks set to become even stronger as business and political leaders explore exciting new areas of bilateral collaboration.

At a Singapore-Japan business forum yesterday to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations, speakers highlighted opportunities to collaborate in developing innovative solutions, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Mr Lim Hng Kiang, Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) urged Japanese firms to join their Singapore counterparts to take advantage of Asean's vibrant growth.

One way is to use Singapore as a base to develop new technologies, he said, citing the example of Japanese flavours and fragrance firm Takasago, which develops and tests halal food products here.

Said Mr Lim: "Singapore is a microcosm of a highly diversified Asia... This makes it an ideal location for the Japanese to undertake innovation-intensive activities and develop solutions for the region."

Japanese firms can also work on innovative solutions with Singapore firms, which can then be used to access third countries, he said, citing Japanese information technology giant NEC's collaboration with ST Electronics to commercialise its cloud services in the region.

The Straits Times was a media partner for the forum, and Mr Ignatius Low, managing editor of Singapore Press Holdings' English, Malay and Tamil media division, moderated a panel discussion at the event.

He asked panel members why there would be benefits in collaboration for Japan and Singapore, as both have track records of "going at it on their own".

International Enterprise Singapore chief executive Lee Ark Boon said while large firms tend to have their own supply chain of services, he saw opportunities for SMEs.

"Two smaller firms together can offer a potentially much stronger and cheaper product than what a bigger, single company can offer," he said.

Collaboration can be fruitful even for large firms as they move farther afield to markets with which they are less familiar, he added.

Mr Robert Yap, chairman of the Asean Business Advisory Council and executive chairman of YCH Group, said Japanese firms that came to the region tended to be large conglomerates with their own supply chains, but more Japanese SMEs are heading here now. "That could be an area which Singaporean firms can leverage on. IE can try to connect these companies," he added.

Citing his experience of learning to sing in Japanese and working with Japanese clients much older than him, Mr Yap said Singaporeans need to develop the cultural know-how to work closely with Japanese firms.

Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chairman Teo Siong Seng, speaking on the sidelines of the forum, said SBF was working with the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry to get more Japanese firms to join SBF's business trips.

"For instance, Japanese firms would like to visit Myanmar with Singapore firms... During these visits, perhaps Japanese and Singapore firms can come together to explore opportunities."

The Singapore-Japan love affair also extends to the love of food. While Singaporeans have long loved Japanese food, with Japanese restaurants making up 15 per cent of the food and beverage sector here, Japanese consumers are developing a taste for Singaporean food.

Mr Teo said the trend had been for Japanese firms to invest here, but there were opportunities in Japan for local firms. In fact, iconic Singapore food businesses like Jumbo and Bee Cheng Hiang have set up shop in Japan, he added.

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