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Opportunities for Singapore, German companies in sustainable innovation

Singaporean-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SGC) president Claus Trenner talks about upcoming trends in sustainable innovation, how the SGC has helped German companies in the area, and how German and Singapore companies can learn from each other.

A Singaporean-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry business luncheon with Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. With Dr Ng are SGC president Claus Trenner, members of the SGC board, advisory council and Gold members. The chamber's activities include organising speaker-driven business luncheons, delegations and conferences to support Singaporean and German companies venturing into new markets.

Q: How has the chamber's role in Singapore changed over the years?

A: The chamber was set up 15 years ago, to promote bilateral business trade relations between Germany and Singapore. We support trade, investment and offer many other services for Singaporean and German companies. Over the years, major German players in the manufacturing, engineering, and service sectors maximised Singapore's location as the gateway into the Asean region.

Today, we have about 1,800 German companies who have set up offices in Singapore. This number is growing and the chamber continues to support the exchange of valuable knowledge and expertise among Singaporean and German companies in their business expansion in Singapore and the Asean region as well as Germany and the European Union (EU).

Q: What have been some of the past year highlights for German firms in Singapore, and German-Singapore business ties?

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A: There are many highlights of German companies in Singapore. Some of these include the Lufthansa Innovation Hub's first foreign office in Singapore (LIH is the digitalisation and innovation unit of the German airline); chemical giant's Evonik's second methionine plant; precision engineering company Feinmetall's production facility; and Leuze Electronic's new logistics centre.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg as there have been many more German companies with new activities in Singapore. For me, this is a testament that German-Singaporean business relations are set to improve in the coming years.

Digitilisation will be a key driving force for both German and Singaporean companies, to get innovative and develop solutions to address the needs of the customers.

Furthermore, the recent ratification of the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will, in the near future, open doors to German and Singaporean companies to further expand their business and trade activities in both directions.

On this note, Germany being Singapore's main trading partner in the EU and Singapore in turn being Germany's main trading partner in Asean highlights the attractive potential for mutual economic activity.

Singapore offers numerous opportunities to develop in a variety of sectors including biotech and health, environment and water technology, digital and interactive media as well as climate protection where German companies co-operate locally. Furthermore, the continuous strengthening of "Industrie 4.0" also provides very good prospects for German and Singaporean businesses to collaborate successfully to achieve sustainable innovation.

Q: Sustainable innovation is catching on in Germany and globally, as the world deals with climate changes, and an evolving business and political environment. What are the opportunities there, for German businesses right now in Singapore and South-east Asia, and for Singapore businesses?

A: Sustainable innovation is a great business opportunity for German and Singaporean businesses and it complements other business activities in Singapore. Sustainable innovation is an important factor in many different areas like renewable energy, digital transformation and automation.

For Singapore especially, renewable energy is mainly limited to solar energy. Hence, the government is investing in solar capacities and has set goals for the increase in solar generated energy. In addition, using energy efficiently continues to play a more important role.

It is against this backdrop that the chamber's recent symposium on Energy Efficiency in Buildings was conducted and has once again shown the high interest for innovative solutions to reduce energy consumption. German companies looking for cooperation partners presented their solutions on how to tackle today's challenges of CO2 emissions and climate change to an audience of about 100 attendees from local businesses, global players and governmental stakeholders. The individual presentations were accompanied by insightful keynote speeches from experts from Germany and Singapore.

Q: Besides sustainable innovation, what are the other areas German and Singapore companies can form deep partnerships in?

A: The area of digital transformation or Industrie 4.0 is furthermore very relevant for the future industrial development in Singapore. Making manufacturing and buildings more intelligent increases the efficiency of work processes and saves power and money.

Since land is a scarce resource in Singapore, there is a high interest in intelligent design and sustainability in buildings and the technical know-how to use buildings efficiently. The government has shown great interest in increasing the sustainability and energy efficiency in buildings with initiatives such as the Green Building Masterplan and the Green Mark Standard.

Automation is also closely linked to digital transformation and sustainable innovation and can also be an area of opportunity for co-operation between German and Singaporean companies. Because Singapore is a highly developed country with comparatively high labour cost, automation in production, logistics and transport is a relevant topic for businesses and also the society in Singapore. Self-driving vehicles and fully automated factories can be a source of efficiency and sustainability.

Q: What are the concerns of German companies in sustainable innovation and can Singapore address those concerns?

A: German companies, especially the Mittelstands, the German family-owned small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), are generally leaning towards a low-risk attitude when it comes to international business with new markets. Because sustainable innovation mainly happens on a high-tech level, failing investments can be very costly.

Singapore is a highly developed country with a business culture somewhat similar to Germany and addresses these issues very well. There is a very stable and reliable legal system and favourable location factors like good regional connectivity, modern infrastructure and an efficient public administration.

Q: How has SGC progressed in its mission to be the first point of contact for German companies here, and Singaporean companies in Germany?

A: The SGC, for many years now has been the first point of contact for German and Singaporean companies indeed, supporting Singaporean and German companies to find their way into new markets, be it in Singapore and Asean or Germany and Europe.

As a bilateral chamber, we organise many events and activities yearly for Singaporean and German companies which offer a platform for exchange and networking. From speaker-driven business luncheons to delegations and conferences, our activities are targeted to specific industries and sectors hence offering Singaporean and German companies many networking opportunities, expertise and knowledge which will be relevant for their business expansion in both directions.

The chamber will continue to expand its efforts supporting the members in their business expansion. We will also continue to inform German companies about business opportunities in Singapore and the Asean region, as well as Singaporean companies about doing business in Germany and the EU.

Q: What is one thing Singapore companies can learn about sustainable innovation from German companies?

A: Actually, both Singaporean and German companies can learn from each other. There are many innovative companies in both countries and by joining forces, they can get even better. A distinct example of this would be the recent visiting German business delegation on water and sewage management which we hosted. In this context, among others, the SGC in cooperation with PUB, Singapore's national water agency, organised an exclusive symposium on Innovative Solutions for the Water Industry. The objective was to bring innovative companies together from both countries and provide practical support for the water and wastewater industry by fostering co-operation between Singaporean and German companies.

Q: What words of wisdom do you have for Singapore companies wanting to expand in Germany in the upcoming year?

A: The German market is the largest in the EU and has been very stable and also friendly towards foreign investment. Because of the geographic location at the heart of Europe and the good connectivity, Germany has some unique advantages to offer for Singaporean companies doing business in Germany and Europe.