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Singapore’s push for self-reliance presents opportunities for B.C. companies: report

Asia Pacific Foundation report highlights the importance of building “Brand Canada” in Asia
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Part of Singapore's skyline. A new Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada report highlights business opportunities in the country.

The Singapore government's efforts to increase self-reliance – particularly in food security – provides an opportunity to partner with B.C. and Canadian businesses to create solutions in the agri-food sector and to build resilient supply chains, according to a new report.

Last month, the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APFC) released Leaders’ Perspectives Syndicated Study: Building Economic Engagement with Singapore and Indonesia, which focused on two countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) highlighted in Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.

“Back in 2020, we did a report looking at how businesses in Asian countries see Canada as a market, and we realized very quickly that Canada doesn’t really have much of a presence in these economies,” said Sreyoshi Dey, APFC’s senior program manager for South Asia and public opinion research.

“That led us to the questions: … What are the best practices to engage with these Asian economies, what are some of the opportunities and challenges and what are some of the sectors of growth?”

The report noted that the pandemic resulted in an accelerated focus on self-reliance for Singapore, a country whose government wields significant influence over market dynamics.

“There are many industries within that space, like pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, and the agri industry, which are really becoming a bigger focus for Singapore as it tries to have more food security, and also have a better grasp on public health and well-being,” said Dey.

“These are some of the sectors which will definitely see an uptick in terms of investments, and the government is investing heavily with these sectors, so these are definitely some of the sectors that Canadian businesses would want to take a look at,” she added.

Clean tech, renewable energy, digitalization and aerospace are expected to see an uptick in government investment – opening up collaboration opportunities for Canadian companies, according to the report. Within these industries, electric vehicles and solar power were cited as specific examples of areas for collaboration.

“B.C., in this case, has this huge market potential in terms of its natural resources, geographically located as one of the Western provinces and its tech innovations and clean tech,” said Dey.

Singapore, which is the only developed country in ASEAN, is a market that’s “really easy” to do business in and a great entry point for the region, according to Dey, due to its friendly and transparent business environment, lack of language barriers, central location and diplomatic relationship with most countries.

However, business owners also need to consider the country’s high operating costs, which are partially caused by limited land and natural resources, a lack of skilled labour, and political conservativeness, she added.

As for Indonesia, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies with a robust, young, middle-class population, the biggest opportunities for B.C. and Canadian businesses lie in the education, digitalization and infrastructure sectors, according to the report.

“The education sector, with a particular emphasis on vocational training, will be an area of focus in the coming years and a potential opportunity for foreign engagement,” noted the report.

In charge of a country with more than 17,500 islands, the Indonesian government is prioritizing investment and spending on building the infrastructure that can withstand challenges posed by climate change and rising sea levels, according to the report. This includes a particular emphasis on transportation and connectivity across Indonesia’s many islands.

Challenges in the market include provincial differences, corruption and human rights issues that “can jeopardize foreign business operations and economic investments.” But the report noted that the country is working on “changes to its laws and regulations to better enable foreign engagement.”

Dey said that for both Singapore and Indonesia, it’s important for Canadian businesses and representatives to emphasize “Brand Canada” rather than provincial identity when engaging with Asian countries to avoid confusion and help build up a brand. This, says Dey, is an area where Canada lags behind its U.S., U.K. and Australia counterparts.

“They may not really understand the differences between a federal government presentation versus a provincial government presentation,” she said. “So most of the time, what's really required is developing a coordinated effort in building ‘the Canadian brand.’”

dxiong@biv.com

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