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COMMENTARY

How the UK and Singapore are partnering for the future

IN February, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat presented a budget to further cement Singapore's position as a regional node of technology, innovation and enterprise and to strengthen its position as "Asia 101' for global MNCs looking to expand into Asia's growing markets and as "Global 101" for Asian companies ready to go global.

Over the years, Singapore has built a world-renowned reputation for innovation, creativity and enterprise. So has the United Kingdom. The 2018 Global Innovation Index - jointly published by Cornell University, INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organisation - ranked the UK and Singapore as the fourth and fifth most innovative economies in the world. There is a keen understanding in both nations that innovation is the lifeblood of national prosperity.

This encompasses innovation in trade, business, governance, education and civil society agencies. It is also telling that both the UK and Singapore are adopting similar "whole-of-government" approaches to supporting industry to meet national challenges and set gold standards as trade and business hubs.

Under Singapore's Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan, announced in 2016, S$4 billion has been earmarked for research and innovation towards achieving Singapore's Smart Nation goal. This reflects the country's drive to maintain its competitive edge by building a knowledge-based economy and future skills-ready society. In the UK, as part of our Industrial Strategy, the government announced an additional investment of £7 billion (S12.4 billion) for R&D to be spent over five years as part of the National Productivity Investment Fund. This raises UK's public investment in R&D from £9.5 billion in 2016-2017 to around £12.5 billionper annum by 2021-2022. This is the biggest ever increase in public funding of R&D for the country. The UK's tech sector has been a major beneficiary of this boost in R&D investment, cementing its position as Europe's leading centre of new and emerging digital and tech businesses and the top European destination for global technology investment.

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Singaporean companies are seizing the opportunity this creates to grow their business.

Bambu, a wealth management robo solution provider based in Singapore, opened its office in London last year. Another Singapore-based fintech startup, Chynge, has also chosen London as its only office outside Asia. These are just two of the many tech disrupters looking beyond Singapore's domestic and regional markets and attracted by the UK's compelling business environment.

And the UK government is making it even easier for Singaporean startups and entrepreneurs to establish themselves in the UK. Our new Start-up Visa is for early-stage, high-potential enterprises looking to enter the UK, while the Innovator Visa invites more experienced entrepreneurs to expand their business in the UK. Lower funding requirements and longer-stay options for eligible applicants mean these new visas offer greater opportunity for foreign companies to enter UK markets.

The interest and opportunities are not one-way. Just as more Singapore-based companies are choosing the UK for their overseas operations, we are seeing increasing numbers of UK companies choosing Singapore as their base to enter Asian markets.

Earlier this month, the Singapore eCommerce Enterprises Development (SEED) office opened in London with support from Enterprise Singapore to help UK companies expand into Singapore and the region. The choice of London is a clear endorsement of its strength as an incubator of innovative brands and a global market leader in consumer goods and products.

This comes at a time of ever-deepening cooperation and collaboration between the UK and Singapore. In January Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and the UK's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt launched the new SG-UK Partnership for the Future. From government to government, business to business, academic to academic and person to person, the Partnership reaches every level through the four priority areas of digital economy, sustainable business and innovation, security and defence, and education culture and youth. While solidifying and expanding existing links, we are creating new collaborations between our two island nations on shared global challenges and opportunities, embracing technology for the benefit of our citizens, and businesses.

  • The writer is the British High Commissioner to Singapore