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Agri-food sandbox, product design space among government's new innovation ideas

NEW regulatory moves will help to support Singapore’s emerging agri-food tech industry, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said in Parliament on Tuesday, while announcing plans to help such companies expand.

With the Agri-Food Innovation Park in Sungei Kadut set to open its doors by mid-2021, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), as well as agencies such as the Singapore Food Agency and Enterprise Singapore, will set up a regulatory sandbox for farms in the park as well.

The Food Regulatory Connectivity Initiative, a newly formed inter-agency workgroup, is also working to get made-in-Singapore food standards recognised by regulators abroad, in a bid to turn the Republic into a “trusted food trading hub”.

Separately, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) is opening a new “innovation factory” in the Jurong Innovation District in 2021, Dr Koh also announced.

“The government must be prepared to relook at our rules and regulations as we grow new sectors,” he said. “As we help our agri-food tech companies to increase their food production capacity through the use of high-tech farming equipment, we must also help them to access new markets and expand their customer base overseas.”

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He noted that the regulatory sandbox will allow for a streamlined review of regulations that affect tenants at the upcoming Agri-Food Innovation Park, such as building, fire safety and other rules, and “the lessons learnt from the sandbox will then be extended to benefit the wider farming industry”.

“This regulatory sandbox is crucial in the fast-growing, high-tech agri-tech sector where we are seeing greater adoption of technology, more innovative ways of ‘farming’, and a more diversified ecosystem of farms and companies,” the MTI added in a statement.

Dr Koh also said that the Food Regulatory Connectivity Initiative will engage trading partners to improve market access for food that is made in or shipped through Singapore, and will also work with the private sector to make sure these products can meet foreign import requirements.

Efforts include ongoing talks with Chinese regulators on China’s recognition of meat and seafood products, which could help Singapore companies to export their food products to new markets that they had not been allowed to enter, he noted.

“As we continue to anchor and seek out new growth areas, new exciting jobs will be created and I hope to see Singaporeans seizing opportunities to work in these new, exciting sectors,” Dr Koh added.

Meanwhile, the planned Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) Innovation Factory has been billed as a co-working space for local companies to design and develop products - such as medtech devices and electromechanical modules, to begin with.

“This is very useful for SMEs when they don’t have the scale or necessary technical expertise to do this on their own, so we hope this will be a real boost for SMEs to up their innovation quotient,” said Dr Koh, referring to small and medium-sized enterprises.

The latest facility follows in the footsteps of two similar projects, the A*Star Model Factory and Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC), which support production technology.

A*Star’s David Low, executive director of SIMTech and chief executive of the ARTC, said in a statement that the upcoming innovation factory would help small businesses “to create quality products, and enhance their global market competitiveness”.

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