Bridges: As CEO of the Singapore Business Federation, what are your plans to strengthen the ‘Apex Business Chamber’?
Kok Ping Soon: Over the last twenty years, SBF played an important role in bringing stakeholders together to help businesses connect and accelerate in tandem with Singapore’s development.
For Singapore to develop global enterprises and create good jobs for Singaporeans, we must have a strong economy fuelled by dynamic businesses which hone relevant knowledge and skills, and SBF has an important role to play.
As a member-centric organization, it is critical that we understand our stakeholders’ needs and strengthen value to their agenda. SBF is focused on leveraging our resources to build stronger platforms and alliances in the business community via events and initiatives. We review our work and relevance regularly through top-down and bottom-up processes to ensure we stay relevant and enhance value to the business community. This allows us to provide more opportunities for our stakeholders to network – all which are integral in helping SBF fulfill our mission to help shape a progressive and pro-business landscape which supports the interests of the business community in Singapore and internationally.
With the increase salience of environmental sustainability, social impact, and corporate governance (ESG) issues among businesses, policymakers and the workforce, ESG aspects are set to shape corporate strategies. SBF has recently set up an ESG Coordination Office (ESGCO) to deep-dive and synergize our efforts in helping businesses thrive in the present and future-proof themselves, as well as meet global sustainability goals.
How would you describe the current Singapore – Japan economic relationship?
Singapore shares a strong bilateral relationship with Japan, since establishing diplomatic relations in 1966, where both countries have collaborated in various industry sectors such as trade and investment, financial services, tourism etc.
Singapore has been Japan’s top investor in Asia and Japan has been one of Singapore’s top foreign investors. Singapore and Japan are ranked among each other’s top trading partners with bilateral trade standing at close to 6 trillion yen in 2021, which was nearly a 9% increase from 2020. From 2018 to 2020, foreign direct investment into Singapore from Japan has risen from about S$115 billion to around S$139 billion, according to data from Singapore Department of Statistics.
SBF conducts an annual National Business Survey (NBS) on business sentiments by Singapore companies. According to findings of the NBS 2022/2023, Japan is ranked the second top country in Asia that Singapore businesses are interested to explore future overseas expansion. To help Singapore companies do so, SBF has been organizing business exploratory trips to Japan to help companies gain first-hand insights into doing business in the market, meet up with potential partners and learn more about the emerging opportunities in the market.
How important is the 100th birth year anniversary of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew?
This year is special because it is the 100th anniversary of Singapore’s founding father and first prime minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s birth. Across Singapore, we have lined up various activities to mark the occasion and we hope that these will remind our youth to reflect on the values and principles of Mr. Lee and our founding generation of leaders. For example, in May this year, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong launched the Lee Kuan Yew Centennial Fund, which will be used to support education-related initiatives to develop and recognize young leaders in Singapore, as well as the Singapore Young Leaders Programme.
SBF will also be paying tribute to Mr Lee at the ASEAN Conference which will take place on 31 August 2023. Mr Lee was a pioneering leader of the ASEAN grouping, which is part of his legacy. Since its establishment in 1967, ASEAN has grown to be a grouping of 10 member states. The bloc has seen success in promoting economic integration among its members, including the negotiation of the RCEP, the world’s largest free trade agreement.
What role do you see Singapore and SBF playing in the ASEAN region in the future?
As one of the founding members of ASEAN, Singapore strongly supports the building of a strong, prosperous and rules-based ASEAN. Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows in ASEAN rose by 42 percent in 2021 to US$174 billion (S$241 billion) with Singapore as the second-largest recipient.
Singapore hosted the 32nd ASEAN Summit in 2018 under the theme “Resilient and Innovative” which highlights our vision for ASEAN to be united in the face of growing uncertainties in the global strategic landscape. We are committed to building an ASEAN that is adaptable and forward looking, so that we can harness opportunities and manage challenges from disruptive digital technologies, equip our citizens with skills to build a future-ready ASEAN and boost our capabilities to make our cities smarter.
SBF has been organising the annual ASEAN Conference together with founding partners UOB Bank, Rajah & Tann Asia and RSM since 2015. The event is well-attended by key business leaders, government officials and academia from the ASEAN region and beyond, supported by key Singapore government agencies and large corporations. Using this platform, SBF brings together key thought leaders to discuss and re-envision ASEAN’s future.
Through our GlobalConnect@SBF Programme, we have provided more than 3000 advisories to Singapore companies with interest to expand to Southeast Asia countries and facilitated more than 180 successful business projects in the region. We have established three Singapore Enterprise Centres (SECs) in Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, and Bangkok to provide on the ground customized business assistance and support for our countries entering these markets.
Our SECs actively look for partnership opportunities with government agencies, Chambers, Business Associations and in-market accelerators, such as banks, professional services firms and channel partners. These partners serve as our multipliers to help our businesses land successfully in ASEAN.
- Tan, P. (2022, September 14). The Future of Japan and Singapore. RIETI.
- Ang, R. (2022) Japanese tech firms using S’pore as gateway to growing S-E Asia market, The Straits Times.
- Wong, L. (2023, May 30). DPM Lawrence Wong at the Launch of the LKY Centennial Fund and SG Young Leaders’ Programme.
- Mahbubani , K. (2015, May 9). The modern miracle that is Asean. The Straits Times.
- Chor, K. Y. (2022, November 11). Asean region presents opportunities for European businesses but challenges remain. The Straits Times.
- (2018, January 18). ASEAN Chairmanship 2018 – Singapore. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations.