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SBF encourages S'pore businesses to explore Swiss opportunities

The two countries share similar policy perspectives and economic attributes which make them complementary partners, says business chamber's CEO.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016 - 05:50
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Jordan Cheang, director of Mekong International Pte Ltd, and Arturo Sutter, CEO of Trivarga AG, signing the agreement. Witnessing the ceremony are (from left) Jan Atteslander, member of board and head of international relations, economiesuisse; Livia Leu, ambassador and delegate of the federal council for trade agreements, Swiss Confederation; Mr Ho and Thomas Kupfer, ambassador of Switzerland to Singapore.

SINGAPORE'S apex business chamber, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), is encouraging companies here to go to Switzerland for exploring new business opportunities, says its chief executive officer Ho Meng Kit.

"Both Switzerland and Singapore share similar policy perspectives and economic attributes which make us complementary partners, and we have similar economic strengths in the services and finance and banking sectors," says Mr Ho. "The import of world-class Swiss technology and innovation in other sectors such as pharmaceuticals, chemical, FMCG and engineering also benefits consumers in Singapore, contributing to the strong economic ties between the two countries. We have seen Kuehne + Nagel and Roche Diagnostics setting up their RHQ and centres of excellence which help upskill and increase the capabilities of the local workforce."

Switzerland and Singapore enjoy warm bilateral relations, underpinned by strong economic ties and the presence of over 350 Swiss companies in Singapore. The Republic is Switzerland's most important trading partner in South-east Asia. Switzerland and Singapore enjoy long-standing trade ties with total trade having hit an all-time high of over S$7.5 billion last year. The signing of the European Free Trade Association agreement with Singapore in 2003, the first with an Asian country, has also facilitated impressive growth in bilateral trade and investment between the two nations, explains Mr Ho.

"Switzerland boasts of many well-known brand names with world-class expertise and best practices which Singapore companies can learn from. From a larger perspective, the Swiss support infrastructure that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation in particular is an aspect that is well-recognised for its excellence.

"While we are familiar with the bigger Swiss companies such as Nestle and Novartis, Switzerland also has a large small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) community. These Swiss SMEs have great ambitions to be global companies, and this presents an opportunity for our Singapore companies to partner and collaborate with them for mutual internationalisation interests," adds the SBF chief.

SBF has been actively promoting business opportunities in Switzerland to Singapore companies through many key activities. In October 2015 and July 2014, SBF and the Switzerland Global Enterprise (SGE) co-organised business luncheons for over 20 Singapore companies keen to explore trade and investment opportunities in Switzerland. During the luncheons, the companies were given insights into the current developments in the Swiss economy since the unpegging of the Swiss franc from the euro as well as upcoming sectoral opportunities.

In May 2014, SBF led its inaugural business mission to Switzerland visiting the cities of Zurich and Lausanne. This was in conjunction with the visit of President Tony Tan Keng Yam to Switzerland. The 16-member business delegation comprised senior representatives from diverse industries including business consultancy and financial services, general trading, ICT, logistics, pharmaceuticals, port management, real estate and venture capital.

SBF also organised a Switzerland-Singapore Business Forum where one of the mission participants, Mekong International, inked an agreement with Trivarga AG, under which Mekong International was appointed as the exclusive distributor for the entire product line of Trivarga's energy drinks in Singapore and Malaysia. This is an indication of the growing interest of European companies in Asean and Asia, says Mr Ho.

In October 2013, SBF supported the seminar and networking session co-organised by the Embassy of Switzerland and the Swiss canton of Vaud. Attended by over 30 participants, the seminar provided a unique opportunity to learn how Singapore-based companies could do business in one of the most prosperous regions in Europe. There was also a networking session to meet business representatives from some 20 Swiss companies to explore partnerships.

Earlier, in November 2012, SBF supported the Singapore and Swiss Business Forum co-organised by Spring Singapore and PwC. The event served as a bilateral platform to support business partnerships between Singapore and Switzerland, and it was an opportunity to network, share ideas and explore collaborations.

On Tuesday, SBF, together with the Swiss embassy, is collaborating in the "Swiss-Singapore Business Forum: SkillsFuture - The Future of the Economy" event on the occasion of the state visit of the President of Switzerland, Federal Councillor Johann N Schneider-Ammann. About 100 participants are expected at Tuesday's lunch forum at the Shangri-la Hotel.

"A plenary discussion on the merits of the Swiss VET (vocational education and training) system and how the Singapore and Swiss education systems have evolved to serve the future needs of the economy will be key topics for discussion," says Mr Ho. "Singapore has much to learn from the Swiss experience in workforce training. One noteworthy aspect is the Swiss apprenticeship system, where students on the vocational track gain first-hand work experience with selected companies. This has allowed Switzerland to build a capable workforce equipped with the skill set that employers need."

He adds: "This is timely as Singapore is currently embarking on our 'SkillsFuture' initiative at a national level. SkillsFuture will play an important part in charting Singapore's future development towards an advanced economy and inclusive society for the next phase of economic transformation."