When Mr Jyrki Katainen, the European Commission’s vice-president for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, visited Singapore last year, he said much the same thing.
Singapore also featured as the ninth-largest investor in the EU, with an investment stock of almost €44 billion (S$67 billion), making it the largest investor in the EU from the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) and the second-largest in Asia.
These impressive bilateral trade figures will be presented in detail today as part of the launch of the EU Business Avenues Programme in South-east Asia, together with the release of our trade publication. They testify that the EU and Singapore are unambiguously invested in each other’s success. But there is room for more growth.
The internationalisation of SMEs is one. In both of our economies, SMEs represent more than 99 per cent of all businesses and employ well over half of our workforce. Not only are they crucial in advancing economic growth, SMEs also often lead the way in spurring innovation.
However, because SMEs often face specific trade barriers to access global markets, both the EU and Singapore are working tirelessly to reach new markets. Both sides are launching flagship programmes this year to help enterprises find partners for growth abroad.
The recently opened Enterprise Europe Network Singapore Business Cooperation Centre will provide a network of 600 partner organisations across 63 countries, with more than 3,000 internationalisation experts and technology transfer practitioners, to Singaporean SMEs looking for business partners across Europe.
The EU has also introduced one more programme to promote SME internationalisation in the region: EU Business Avenues in South-east Asia. This fully fledged five-year programme aims to strengthen the presence of European SMEs in Singapore and Asean. In launching this, we are applying a winning formula. Business Avenues, similar to earlier efforts the EU has successfully run in Japan and Korea, uses Singapore as a hub to emerging markets in South-east Asia.
There will be several business missions, each of which will include expert presentations, networking opportunities, business exhibitions and business matching exercises. The intent is to facilitate business meetings, technology transfers and increased cooperation between European companies and enterprises in Singapore and the broader region.
The EU Business Avenues programme supports SMEs from across Europe looking to secure partnerships with counterparts in the region. A successful pilot that accompanied more than 100 companies to the South-east Asia region was concluded last year.
Thanks to the support offered, companies such as Royal Eijkelkamp and Bioprocess Control, with expertise in soil and water research, and anaerobic digestion processes, respectively, were approached by clients for new projects and are now looking to set up a regional centre and sales offices to serve their clients in Asia.
Our goal now is to bring 1,000 European SMEs to Singapore, and from here to five neighbouring Asean markets by 2020.
The first business mission — in the water and environment technologies sector — will take place from July 11 to 15, and companies will be visiting Singapore for the International Water Week before travelling to Vietnam. Upcoming missions include these areas: Renewable energy, healthcare, ICT and construction technologies, as well as contemporary interior design and food and beverage products, and related technologies.
The EU Business Avenues, with its long-term commitment to the region, will provide an important gateway into the EU, and vice-versa. This is part of a reinvigorated European Economic Diplomacy. Given our shared objective in promoting the internationalisation of our SMEs, we must ensure that they seize and continue to build on these opportunities to make our partnership even stronger in the future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michael Pulch is the Ambassador of the European Union to Singapore