Trade bodies can do more to help local SMEs grow

They can take on role of intermediary in areas like sourcing, training, sharing of experience, says trade and industry minister


TRADE associations and chambers can play a greater role in helping local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) grow locally and overseas, says Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.

Speaking at Berita Harian's inaugural seminar for SMEs on Friday, he outlined a few ways in which trade associations and chambers could pull their weight, one of them being taking on the role of an intermediary.

"Domestically, different industries and trades require different technologies, but each of the companies by themselves is unable to have the critical mass in terms of sourcing for ideas and training with people."

What trade associations and chambers could do is organise the SMEs by sector and provide a suite of support specific to each sector - from sourcing and repackaging the relevant technologies for SMEs, to "plug and play", to training workers and conducting post-implementation reviews.

He added that the Ministry of Trade and Industry was prepared to help trade associations and chambers build those capabilities.

In addition, venturing overseas is "not easy", he noted. Hence, trade associations and chambers could help SMEs by helping them group together to go overseas and explore opportunities beyond the local market.

He said he was also prepared to arrange for an exchange for Enterprise Singapore officers and those from the chambers, so that they can trade know-how, on the government schemes available to SMEs, for example.

More importantly, for firms looking overseas, trade associations and chambers can help them navigate foreign waters by "sharing with them some of the challenges, rules and operating context in those countries, so that we don't have to re-learn the lessons of the past".

While much attention is on the ongoing US-China trade war both at home and abroad, Mr Chan highlighted the presence of non-tariff barriers as an example of challenges SMEs should be conscious of as they grow overseas.

"Be very aware that there are non-tariff barriers that we all have to navigate intelligently, as a team together."

At the seminar, where technological developments such as robotic process automation were also showcased, Mr Chan said new technologies could provide opportunities for SMEs to grow overseas.

"It is one thing to apply technologies to our current production processes, it's another thing to re-imagine how our entire production process and entire value chain can be re-designed using the new technologies to seize the new opportunities."

However, they need to be applied in the context of each business.

"The ultimate decision on what technology to apply depends on your business model and the markets you are in."