SINO-SINGAPORE Jilin Food Zone (SSJFZ) could potentially draw a higher proportion of foreign investors compared with other food zones in China in part because of the Singapore branding.
"The fact that it is associated with Singapore - Western and other countries will trust that brand a lot more. That's my gut feel. But there are a lot of Chinese companies too that have world aspirations and they want to be part of (the food zone), so they can associate themselves," said Singbridge Corporate executive vice-president Yeo Chun Cheng on Thursday.
Mr Yeo was speaking on the sidelines of the Sino-Singapore Jilin Food Zone Seminar, where the zone's first product was unveiled: SSJFZ-branded Fragrance 43ºN japonica rice.
Jilin Food Zone (roughly double the size of Singapore at 1,450 square kilometres) is a joint project of the Jilin city government and Singbridge, a member of the Ascendas-Singbridge group that is majority-owned by Temasek Holdings. It was first mooted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then-Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in 2008, but questions about its commercial viability led Singbridge to put it on hold. In 2012, both sides agreed to start up the project again.
The rice, to be launched here by year-end, will be the first product from the food zone to enter the Singapore market. For the pilot launch, 60 tonnes of rice will be imported for sale and be available at all NTUC FairPrice Xtra hypermarkets and FairPrice Finest supermarkets.
It was harvested, processed and imported in compliance with SSJFZ's Integrated Food Safety System, which is in turn a set of safety standards established based on Singapore's experience and expertise, with the help of Agri-Food Technologies, the consultancy arm of Singapore's Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).
To date, there are 15 investment projects worth more than 10 billion yuan (S$2.2 billion) in the SSJFZ. Of the four memorandum of understanding (MOU) signing ceremonies that took place yesterday, one was with a Singapore company. The MOU on the strategic cooperation framework for dairy farm industrialisation and high-end infant formula was signed by the administration committee of Sino-Singapore Jilin Food Zone, Singbridge Corporate, and Singapore Sincere-Lion.
Other new projects introduced this year include salmon farming and the production of healthy beverage drinks.
The majority of investors have signed on in the last two years, said Singbridge's Mr Yeo. He noted that, in the early days, the project didn't draw many investors because the basic infrastructure was still being set up. But while the project has faced several setbacks, things should move along more smoothly from now, he said.
The timeline for a pig farm being built by Singapore Food Industries and its partners - initially scheduled to start pork exports to Singapore last year - has been pushed back, for instance. It has since, however, secured Chai Tai, the China subsidiary of Charoen Pokphand Group, as its investor. The investment plan calls for stocking of the pig farm to commence by the middle of next year.
"We've had a number of setbacks but it's quite normal. It's a big project, and this is also the first time we're embarking on an agri-food project," said Mr Yeo. He added that this is the first time the Jilin and Singapore parties are working together. "So that system takes a while to work itself out. It's not going to be smooth sailing, but I think it will be smoother sailing from now."