Bridges: Since taking over the role of CEO, what is your vision for the future of the Singapore Business Federation?
Young: I am grateful for all the good work my predecessor Mr. Ho Meng Kit has done in building SBF to where it is today. As Singapore continues to work towards an economic recovery post COVID-19, SBF will keep our members at the forefront of our mission and champion for their needs both locally and internationally.
As the apex business chamber in Singapore, SBF represents over 26,000 Singapore companies and key local and foreign business chambers. To cater to the diverse needs of our members, we cannot do it alone. I believe that we need to build a strong ecosystem to support our members, and this can be done via partnerships not just between SBF and our partners, but also by encouraging companies to work more closely with each other to seize business opportunities.
I see SBF playing three key roles to support our members and the wider business community in Singapore. As a bridge between them and the government, sharing their concerns and feedback with the government and helping them to understand government policies. As a facilitator, supporting them in their growth journey in areas such as internationalization, digitalization & transformation, and jobs & skills. And as an enabler, building a community and ecosystem of businesses and trade associations working with and supporting one another.
What steps are you taking to assist companies recover and thrive after the pandemic?
The pandemic has had an uneven impact on our economy and businesses, and we also see uneven recovery across different industries. We thus need varied strategies and differentiated solutions to aid our businesses in their recovery.
Border closures and travel restrictions due to the pandemic have severely restricted business travels and disrupted the usual modes of doing international business. But we cannot just stop doing business. Trade flows remain critical for recovery. To help Singapore companies continue to access market opportunities and meet new potential partners even during the midst of the pandemic, SBF pivoted to online platforms and events. For example, SBF organized FYIstival: The Japan edition, a digital platform for Japanese and Singapore businesses to continue to engage one another. Between 26 April to 25 June 2021, a series of webinars, business clinics and business matching sessions were held covering topics such as digital transformation, food technology, franchising and licensing, and age-tech business. We had a good turnout and support with our 4 webinars, which featured 27 speakers and attracted 660 participants from Japan and Singapore.
Internationalization is one of SBF’s strategic pillars and we are committed to support Singapore companies to learn, land, and localize in new markets, even as we adapt to a new business landscape brought about by the pandemic.
We also spearheaded efforts to improve the operating environment for businesses, through efforts such as the Code of Conduct for Leasing of Retail Premises. By bringing together key stakeholders representing both landlords and tenants, we facilitated the establishment of a fairer and more sustainable retail rental framework.
How important is the Japan-Singapore relationship in 2021?
2021 marks 55 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Singapore. We enjoyed longstanding friendly and productive relationships over the years because both countries share common fundamental beliefs in championing free, open, and transparent rules-based trade that have been instrumental and contributed significantly to the economies of both countries.
Japan’s importance as a market to Singapore businesses is reflected in the SBF National Business Survey 2020/21 where 32% of Singapore companies responded that they are already doing business in Japan, and 27% indicated that they have plans for future expansion in Japan.
Despite the pandemic, Japan and Singapore have deepened our collaboration to keep markets open and allow trade and economic activities such as the movement of essential goods and people to continue. We also work together through international platforms such as the B20 Summit, Asian Business Summit and APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), to strengthen the resilience of supply chains and connectivity networks and to deepen cooperation in the digital economy.
What message do you have for our international readers regarding the role of Singapore as a business destination in the future?
Singapore is an attractive business hub that offers many competitive advantages for international companies, be it as a global hub or as a gateway to ASEAN and Asia. We offer a stable business and political environment with a fair and transparent legal system. As a recognized financial hub, we have a progressive environment for businesses to raise and mobilize capital. As a signatory to various bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, Singapore supports the open and free flow of goods, services, and people.
With the global economic recovery expected this year, SBF will continue to support our businesses to seize growth opportunities and foster greater co-operation and partnerships. If you are looking for a Singapore partner, SBF is well-placed to help link you up with our more than 26,000-strong membership base.