Lee Eng Keat, International Director, Asia Pacific, Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), heads the EDB’s Mumbai operations and is responsible for facilitating Indian enterprises and individuals seeking to internationalize their business through Singapore. Lee has been actively working with Indian companies since 2007 and was instrumental in growing India’s presence in Singapore such that it has become the second largest foreign business community in the country. Lee has also contributed to the diversification of industries setting up operations in Singapore which currently includes all the top 20 Indian IT companies. Lee was awarded the Sunstrand‐EDB scholarship for his studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign, USA, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering with Highest Honours. Following this, Mr. Lee went on to receive a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering at the same university.
The Singapore EconomicDevelopment Board (EDB) is the lead government agency that plans and executes economicstrategies that enhance Singapore’sposition as a global hub for business, investment and talent. The vision is tocreate a compelling global hub for business, investment and talent. EDB’smission is to create sustainable GDP growth for Singapore with good job and businessopportunities for its people. As part of the Future‐Singapore initiative, EDBhas identified three business growth themes. These are areas in which Singaporefaces challenges, offers opportunities and has the potential to serve as a workingmodel and test‐bed for new ideas. The three growth themes are Urban solutions,Lifestyle and Ageing, healthcare and wellness. These are horizontal businessthemes which add to, and cut across, the existing industry clusters in Singaporeto offer various new business possibilities.
Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, Lee Eng Keat says, “We focus on attracting two groups of companies to Singapore: global companies coming into Asia in a huge wave to ride on the potential of Asia, and Asian companies which are starting to go global.”
Give us an overview of the activities of Singapore EDB in India. How has the experience been in recent years?
The Singapore Economic Development Board (SEDB) is a statutory board of the Government of Singapore. We are responsible for shaping Singapore’s economy and creating vibrant business opportunities and good jobs in Singapore. This involves creating sustainable growth by identifying and developing sectors that have a good fit with Singapore’s economy such as electronics, chemicals, info-communications and media, IT, biomedical, infrastructure, consumer, and marine and offshore.
We focus on attracting two groups of companies to Singapore: global companies coming into Asia in a huge wave to ride on the potential of Asia, and Asian companies which are starting to go global. The former group of companies is seeking an Asian business hub to manage their pan-Asian business. We work with them to study how best to structure and set up a multitude of functions in Singapore to manage their whole range of businesses in Asia. For Asian companies, many of them are of the size and ambition to seek global markets out of Singapore. We collaborate with these companies to explore how they could tap on Singapore’s connectivity to global markets around the world. We highlight opportunities for companies to access global markets from Singapore, how they could leverage the facilities Singapore has to offer, and partner with other industry players.
We have officers in Mumbai and Delhi who travel across India to engage with companies with a global outlook and a vision to operate in the global market. Over the years, the interest level has significantly increased as Indian companies become more international in their outlook and Asia and Australia gain more significance as a market and supplier of resources such as coal and agricultural products. In terms of Indian projects in Singapore, some of the key highlights include:
What are the steps being taken to enhance the business environment in Singapore for Indians?
Singapore offers a pro-business trusted environment, which is built upon policy transparency and a strong legal framework. Its location, strong air and sea links and extensive network of double taxation avoidance agreements and free trade agreements (FTAs), facilitates Asian companies accessing global markets and vice versa. Another reason for companies to locate in Singapore is that they view Singapore as a useful location in Asia for innovation. We call Singapore a ‘Living Laboratory’, where companies can leverage on the research infrastructure that we have built up over the last 10 years. One of the key fields is in Urban Solutions, which are products and services for urban markets. We offer Singapore as a location to develop and test innovative new solutions that are required in Singapore and other cities in Asia. These might be traffic management systems, energy management systems, and water management systems.
With the conclusion of CECA in 2005, Singapore has grown in prominence as a source of investments in the Indian market. There are currently more than 4,400 Indian companies in Singapore, many of which carry out regional responsibilities. CECA gives these regional headquarters greater impetus to use Singapore as a base to invest into India knowing that there is a strong treaty between the two countries to facilitate their investments into India. This is especially so in the area of infrastructure investments. Prior to the signing of CECA, Singapore was 6th or 7th on the list of top investors into India. Since then, Singapore has steadily risen through the ranks and today is the 2nd highest source of investments into India. Awareness is also increasing awareness around how Singapore is a location that has strong governance and has the supporting infrastructure to raise financing to orchestrate companies’ international growth. As such, Singapore is the number two destination for India’s outbound investments.
In addition, we have engaged partners such as HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and Tata Capital to increase our outreach to Indian companies and help them understand what Singapore has to offer in terms of their growing their international operations.
How much attention are you giving to manufacturing? Do the monthly numbers give an indication of growth?
Manufacturing output has been increasing steadily and reached S$272 billion in 2011 (from S$260 billion in 2010), keeping pace with Singapore’s GDP growth which is estimated to be between 1 - 3% in 2012. The government has committed to maintaining both high-value manufacturing (20.9% of nominal GDP in 2011) and services (69.0% of nominal GDP in 2011) as twin engines of growth for the Singapore economy.
You’ve been here (in India) for around 5 years. You would have seen the changes taking place in the country. What are some of the promising areas you see for individuals to set up operations in Singapore?
EDB is discussion with many Indian companies who have a global outlook and a vision to operate in the global market. There are several industry sectors in Singapore that seem to be of increasing interest to Indian companies:
Infocomms and Media: Singapore is traditionally an IT and telecom hub, where companies value Singapore’s talent pool and good infrastructure – such as data centres, data management hubs and high speeds of connectivity around the region – strong competencies in areas such as mobility, enterprise and analytics, and well-developed support services. Indian global companies such as Tata Communications, TCS, Infosys and Wipro have established significant presences in Singapore.
Consumer Business: Urbanisation and the rise in income of the middle class has boosted the growth of this sector in the region, motivating global leaders such as P&G and Unilever to build up their presence in Singapore to access the Asian markets. Singapore brings together a strong ecosystem of players (design, innovation, market research, branding, marketing) that helps consumer businesses manage their regional or international brands. On top of this, the government is also investing to build pan-Asian consumer insights capabilities to support the creation of new products for these growing markets through detailed analysis of trends and consumption patterns (e.g. through the newly-inaugurated Asian Institute of Consumer Insights). Indian consumer businesses such as Future Group, Elephant Strategy & Design and Quantum Consumer Solutions have shown interest in these developments.
Pharmaceuticals: Increasingly, as Indian pharmaceuticals seek to develop innovative or branded medicines, and to penetrate new global markets, Singapore’s track record of manufacturing high quality medicines, having a pool of global R&D talent located in world-class research infrastructure, and a strong IP regime to protect key R&D outcomes, gives companies the confidence to internationalise through Singapore. This includes efforts to facilitate collaborative R&D with Indian companies to develop solutions for Asian-prevalent diseases.
Infrastructure and Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC): Leading Indian companies such as Punj Lloyd and Lanco have set up their regional operations in Singapore to tap on the growth potential in Asia, and undertake a variety of activities here, including the various stages of engineering, project management, and supply chain management.
Natural Resources: Many Indian companies are venturing overseas to backward integrate their operations by securing upstream resources such as coal mines as well as plantations. Given Singapore’s Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements with a number of resource rich countries in Asia, many of use Singapore as a base to invest and manage these upstream resources. These companies are also tapping Singapore’s financial infrastructure to facilitate their international trade and project financing requirements.
Tell us about the Future Singapore initiative. Among your growth themes like urban solutions, lifestyle and ageing, healthcare and wellness, which are the ones, getting most attention?
To paint the background, VUCA is an acronym that is sometimes used to describe the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity of conditions we live in today. Future Ready Singapore is about positioning Singapore as a business partner to work with companies to explore future business trends in this VUCA world and collaborate to develop solutions to tap on the opportunities that might emerge.
In the area of Urban Solutions, Singapore’s focus has been in environment and water, clean energy, built environment and city management, urban mobility, IT and security. For example, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India’s largest IT services company, collaborated with the Singapore Management University (SMU) to establish the “TCS-SMU iCity Lab” in Aug 2011. This new research facility leverages SMU’s combination of IT capabilities and business know-how, as well as TCS’ existing suite of urban IT applications and large partner ecosystem, to drive research and development of cloud-based IT solutions and business models for intelligent urban cities management. The iCity Lab represents TCS’ regional innovation hub in Singapore, where pioneering urban IT solutions will be developed and exported to fast-emerging markets such as China, India and Southeast Asia, where rapid urbanisation and sustainability initiatives are key priorities.
The Health and Wellness Programme Office, co-helmed by EDB and the Ministry of Health (MOH), has the aim to enhance Singapore's healthcare system while driving innovation through platforms that promote public-private partnerships to accelerate companies' development of future solutions. To this end, various Singapore government agencies have launched grant calls and funds for companies to collaborate with local healthcare institutions to develop solutions. For example, Swiss company Hocoma AG announced its partnership with Singapore’s Tan Tock Seng Hospital Rehabilitation Centre to develop and optimize clinical and equipment for robotic rehabilitation therapy for neurological movement disorders. Other areas of focus include chronic disease (e.g. diabetes), obesity, ageing, tele-health and remote monitoring.
In the area of Lifestyle, this encompasses
Visual Arts – this sector has seen a growing presence in art and collectibles businesses being based in Singapore to serve the Asia-Pacific market. One major achievement in this arena was the launch of Art Stage in 2011 by the former Director of Art Basel, Lorenzo Rudolf, featuring top galleries from Asia and around the world as an Asian launchpad for emerging and established artists.
Performing Arts – with 7,500 performances a year in Singapore, there is a continual stream of major performing events hosted in Singapore’s 56 venues, leading to industry majors such as IMG Artists and Based Entertainment, choosing Singapore as a base for their regional business activities to grow in Asia.
Sports – Keen to tap on the growing sports industry in Asia, international sports apparel companies (Converse, Nike), events and sports management companies (World Sport Group, MP & Silva) and training companies (Manchester United Soccer School) have set up in Singapore. Their presence, coupled with the Singapore government’s concerted effort to build top-notch sports infrastructure such as the 35ha Sports Hub, Changi Motorsports Hub, on top of events such as the F1 night race, put Singapore on the world map for sports business and events.
How encouraging is EDB for social media activities and start-ups. Do you provide some help here?
EDB is supportive of companies looking to ride on the social media wave. Companies from across the infocomm services space, spanning Internet, software, and services, have undertaken a full suite of business activities in Singapore, from headquarter functions, research and development, to the deployment of solutions to global markets. The presence of these leading companies has created significant synergies for the industry, and provides fertile ground for collaboration.
Google, the world's leading internet search and advertising company, illustrates Singapore's success in attracting capital, knowledge and innovation intensive technology companies. The company established its Southeast Asia Headquarters in Singapore in 2009 and announced in 2011 that it would also be building a US$120m data centre here - Google's first in Southeast Asia and second in Asia.
Singapore is known to be very innovative. Where does the talent mostly come from?
Singapore is a cosmopolitan country at the crossroads of Asia where people from the region feel at home and those from beyond feel welcome. In fact, one in five persons here come from abroad, constantly adding to the nation's unique heritage blend. Today, the population comprises a rich mix of different cultures, lifestyles and religions which co-exist harmoniously and form the base of our multinational workforce.
What is your agenda for the coming year from India?
We will keep engaging and seeking to understand Indian companies’ evolving needs as they continue to grow their international footprint, in order to explore win-win partnerships with Singapore. The sectors that we see more interest from currently continue to be from the IT; Pharmaceuticals; Consumer Businesses; Infrastructure, Engineering, Procurement & Construction; and the Natural Resources (agriculture, metals and minerals) sectors.