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Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Finance and Minister for Manpower at the Singapore Prestige Brand Award 2011 Ceremony, on Thursday 8 Decemeber 2011, 8:00pm at Raffles City Convention Centre

08 Dec 2011

Mr Lawrence Leow,
President, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises;

Mr Robin Hu,
Senior Executive Vice President, Chinese Newspapers / Newspapers Services, Singapore Press Holdings Limited

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good evening.

1.        It is with great pleasure that I join you tonight. First, let me congratulate the SPBA on its 10th anniversary as well as the winners of the Singapore Prestige Brand Award 2011.

2.        Since inception, the SPBA has recognised over 300 winners and encouraged companies to adopt branding as an integral aspect of their business. The number of companies competing in this award has grown and some award recipients have also developed into well-known brands internationally.

3.        As we make plans for the new year, we are confronted with the prospect of a weaker 2012, globally and in our own economy. Demand will be weak across the developed world, with households, governments and the financial sector itself being forced to cut back on borrowings and reduce debts. The US economy has recently seen some positive signs, but it is less a case of better days ahead than a reduction in the downside risks.  In China too, manufacturing activity has eased off significantly, and services growth is also moderating as the property market softens. We should therefore be prepared for a period of sub-trend growth and renewed bouts of volatility in financial markets. Indeed, the problems in the developed world will be with us for some years. Europe and the US will need several years to break out of a cycle of deleveraging and low growth.

4.        Our businesses will need all the resilience and initiative we have to manoeuvre through this difficult period. We must also restructure and reposition ourselves, so that we emerge stronger from this period of difficulty, just as we did in the 2008-2009 global crisis.

5.        Tough times can be turned to our advantage, as individual businesses, for our workers, and for Singapore.

Growing Globally Competitive Companies (GCCs)

6.        There will still be opportunities for Singapore companies, even in a dull international environment. The Government will play an active role to help more Singapore companies develop capabilities at home, become globally competitive, and tap into new markets.

7.        We have put in place a range of strategies to develop more globally competitive companies, or GCCs in short, – by boosting productivity, encouraging innovation, and improving access to financing. Last year, we launched the Public-Private Co-Innovation Partnership for government agencies to work with private-sector companies, to co-develop innovative solutions for medium to long term needs. To date, 12 projects with objectives ranging from how to recycle excavated sedimentary rocks for road construction, to the development of next generation integrated roofing solutions to enhance the thermal comfort of HDB residents, have gone ahead.

8.        We must also do more to leverage on the networks and expertise of trade associations and chambers (TACs). For example, the Singapore Jewellers Association has looked at industry branding to help it acquire the capability to position its industry and stay relevant locally and internationally[1].

9.        In Budget 2011, we also committed $850 million in government grants under the Enterprise Development Fund (EDF) for 2011 to 2015. As part of this umbrella fund, IE Singapore and SPRING Singapore have partnered local companies to use branding as a strategy for business competitiveness. Specifically, IE Singapore focuses on brand capabilities as an effective tool for international expansion.

Rise of brands in Asia

10.      Brands today have the opportunity to reach a new generation of brand-conscious middle class consumers. The potential of this group is tremendous. The World Bank estimates that the global middle class could grow from 430 million in 2000, to 1.2 billion in 2030. Two thirds will come from China and India. These consumers in China and India are only beginning to be exposed to international brands. Surveys have shown that they are extremely receptive to new brands, but have relatively low brand loyalty. This opens up a critical window of opportunity for new brands, including our own, to make their mark in this important market.

Building Singapore brands for the international stage

11.      A business plan with a clear and appealing brand is therefore crucial for Singapore companies looking to grow their market share in Asia. But reputations are not built overnight. Branding is a long term investment that requires sustained effort, ingenuity and commitment. This year's winners include Bread Talk and Xpress, who are examples of home grown companies that have invested heavily over a sustained period of time to build their businesses around a strong brand.

12.      Other industry brands such as Apparel SG, Singapore Mozaic and Tasty Singaporehave also helped position Singapore's food, furniture and apparel industries respectively, in a positive light globally.

13.      In each of these industries, there is something of a 'Singapore advantage'. Singapore's reputation for quality, safety, reliability and integrity has provided strong support for the individual brands among potential partners and consumers. This 'Singapore advantage' was built up collectively, through our practices in government and the business sector, and in our society. It is for all of us to preserve and strengthen, even as we bring new innovative ideas to market in each of our industries. And as Singapore companies widen their reach regionally and globally, they will be adding to an asset not just for their companies, but also to Singaporeans.


14.     In closing, I would like to again congratulate all the winners of this year’s Singapore Prestige Brand Awards. I believe many more Singapore companies will be inspired by your vision, and seek to emulate your achievements. I look forward to more iconic and global brands from Singapore in time to come, and more of the Singapore advantage.

[1] "Next phase of Local Enterprise and Association Development (LEAD) Programme focuses on empowering Associations through capability upgrading", 15 October 2010, Press release by IE Singapore and SPRING Singapore.