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PARLIAMENT

IE and Spring merger timely, given global changes: Iswaran

The new body, Enterprise Singapore, will offer support and programmes tailored to companies' stage of growth

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Mr Iswaran says the new agency will continue the work of its predecessors. It will, for example, organise overseas trade missions and streamline the many programmes supporting local firms.

Singapore

WITH global expansion and innovation being increasingly entwined, having a one-stop agency to support firms' development is necessary and timely, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran.

Announced last September, the merger of International Enterprise (IE) Singapore and Spring Singapore to form Enterprise Singapore was formalised on Monday, with the House having passed a Bill on the new statutory board.

The merger takes effect on April 1. The new agency will continue the work of its predecessors, including the streamlining and review of government schemes and grants, with the changes to be unveiled later this month.

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For firms, the goals of capability building, innovation and international expansion "are deeply intertwined and reinforce each other", said Mr Iswaran at the start of the second reading of the Bill.

"A company must innovate and deepen its capabilities to successfully expand into overseas markets. Equally, venturing overseas will itself create the scale, impetus and opportunity for businesses to gain new capabilities and expertise."

Spring supports small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in areas such as financing, capability development and innovation, while trade promotion agency IE Singapore helps local firms go abroad.

In 2017, Spring helped almost 40,000 firms upgrade, while IE Singapore supported more than 45,000 firms in their overseas ventures.

But changes in the world economy call for a different approach, said Mr Iswaran: First, with global growth's centre of gravity shifting to Asia, firms realise that Asia's rise provides a chance to internationalise quickly.

Second, e-commerce and digital technology are making it easier to go abroad, and making going abroad more crucial to success.

Finally, expansion today requires deep capabilities and must be driven by productivity and innovation.

Firms must adapt to these changes, and economic agencies too must respond to firms' changing needs, said Mr Iswaran. "So it is necessary and timely to merge the functions and operations of IE and Spring to form Enterprise Singapore."

Enterprise Singapore will take an enterprise-centric approach, offering programmes and support based on a company's stage of growth, the industry it is in, and its overseas markets of interest.

Responding to MPs' concerns at the end of the debate, he said Enterprise Singapore will help firms in all sectors, whether or not they are covered by the government's Industry Transformation Maps.

He reassured MPs that the new agency will continue the work of its predecessors, such as supporting micro SMEs, organising overseas trade missions, and streamlining the many programmes that support local firms.

To ensure continuity, companies in existing schemes will have the same account managers as far as possible.

"We will share more details on any changes to the suite of schemes and grants at the upcoming Budget and Committee of Supply debates," he added.

Calling on all stakeholders to support the new agency's efforts, he said Enterprise Singapore will work with other public agencies, promote private sector partnerships, and collaborate with industry bodies.

For instance, there are plans for more group-based projects with SME centres, trade associations and chambers, and merchant associations to help SMEs in different neighbourhoods or trade precincts to upgrade.