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FOUR partnerships were launched at the Singapore Regional Business Forum on Tuesday to give the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) a boost.
The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and Chinese Enterprises Association (CEA) inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to roll out an online and offline platform for regional businesses to connect and work on BRI projects in Singapore, China and other countries located on the Belt and Road route.
The projects include sharing BRI’s latest developments, conducting feasibility and evaluation studies, helping in project investment and financing, giving legal advice, offering business matching and showcasing successful projects.
In its third year, the SBF-hosted Singapore Regional Business Forum focused on exploring trade connectivity and tie-up opportunities offered by BRI.
Two other MOUs were also signed at the forum: Pacific International Lines, PSA International and IBM Singapore agreed to explore and develop proof of concept blockchain-based supply chain solutions; and SBF and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry joined hands to boost Philippine-Singapore trade and economic ties.
SBF and Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) also launched the English version of the Belt & Road Digital Portal to meet increasing demand for BRI-related news and provide a regional perspective of the initiative. The portal, which complements the Chinese-language Belt & Road portal rolled out last year, will further highlight Singapore’s role in BRI and the impact of the initiative.
Originally called the New Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, BRI is China’s ambitious multi-billion-dollar vehicle for connectivity, mutual development and cooperation with neighbours on its ancient trade routes and countries further afield.
According to SBF, the BRI Connect Platform started by SBF and CEA will be fully launched in the coming months and allow local companies to offer expertise in areas such as accounting, financing and consultancy to other firms wanting to participate in BRI projects.
The number of such projects contracted has been rising steadily since 2016, with combined business revenue of US$75.97 billion.
The English version of the Belt & Road portal, whose main sponsor is HSBC, is South-east Asia’s first comprehensive website focusing on BRI. The Chinese-language portal has been well-received, amassing a total of over 11 million page-views so far.
Explaining the introduction of the English-language portal, Anthony Tan, SPH deputy CEO, said: “With the Belt and Road initiative garnering prominence regionally, there is demand for a trusted website that carries news and developments on BRI.”
A survey report by SBF and the Economist Corporate Network, released at Tuesday’s forum, said that over 80 per cent of business leaders polled in the region agreed or strongly agreed that BRI represented an opportunity, though over 75 per cent claimed to be either very concerned or moderately concerned about its political risk, transparency and governance.
A panel discussion at the forum, moderated by Ho Kwon Ping, executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, concluded that greater regional connectivity forged by BRI would be beneficial to businesses.
The panel included Liew Mun Leong, chairman of Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong Group; Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, chairman and CEO of Ayala Corporation; and Lee Ark Boon, CEO of International Enterprise Singapore.
Delivering the keynote speech at the forum, Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong urged Singapore and Chinese firms to cooperate on developments in the Belt and Road countries.
“Singapore companies are natural partners for Chinese firms expanding into the region, especially in South-east Asia,” he said. “We have worked together on the Suzhou Industrial Park for more than 20 years. We have Tianjin Eco-city, we have close to 10 years experience.”
Mr Wong said that Singapore companies might not be able to build a railway or large-scale infrastructure, but they could do engineering, design, master planning, project management and financing, logistics and servicing as well as a whole range of other services.