How can firms break into Asean markets?
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Internationalisation: How can firms break into Asean markets?

First published on The Straits Times on 09 January 2020.

Q: We received queries from our Chinese and American clients who want to shift their manufacturing to Asean. Where can I learn more about the various FTAs for Asean?

A: Singapore’s extensive free trade agreement (FTA) network provides enhanced market access, certainty and confidence for Singapore companies to venture overseas.

Expanding overseas will help our companies diversify their growth. Companies can tap various FTAs that cater to the Asean region, such as the Asean Free Trade Area (Afta), and Asean-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA), to enhance their competitive advantage when venturing into the Asean markets. They can visit to find out more.

To make the most of FTAs, they can also leverage:

  • Tariff Finder, a complimentary tool for companies to explore and compute duty savings through FTAs, as well as review trade-related rules and formalities of Singapore’s trading partners. Businesses using the Networked Trade Platform (a national digital trade platform) can also conveniently access the Tariff Finder through it.
  • FTA outreach sessions, jointly conducted by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Enterprise Singapore and Singapore Business Federation (SBF), which help companies understand how to enjoy FTA benefits specific to their export markets and sectors. With our support, SBF also launched a new FTA Education and Outreach arm last year to provide more targeted FTA outreach and advisory services to the business community.
  • One-to-One FTA consultations with Enterprise Singapore and SBF, where we provide customised advisory services. Companies can contact SBF at for more information or advice about FTAs.
  • Online and offline FTA courses offered by our partners, such as SBF and International Chamber of Commerce Academy, help companies gain a deeper understanding of FTAs and how these can be part of their business strategies.

Q: My company is keen to venture into Asean. Where should I turn to for help?

A: When venturing overseas, South-east Asia is often a suitable first port of call for Singapore companies due to its proximity, strategic location, strong economic fundamentals, huge consumption base, favourable demographics and cost competitiveness.

Often, what companies require is a deep understanding of how the market works, including the regulations involved, potential opportunities and leads, and suitable local partners with the networks to help quicken their entry into the market. We work closely with trade associations and chambers to support companies’ internationalisation through:

  • Workshops and seminars to learn more about the different markets;
  • In-market business missions to explore opportunities in the various markets;
  • Extensive market knowledge and a network of partners that companies can tap.

For companies who are unsure about how to embark on their internationalisation journey, SME Centres can assess their readiness and assist them in enhancing their capability to internationalise. Companies can approach SBF for advisory services, market insights, connections and in-market activities.

When expanding or entering new markets, companies can also tap our Market Readiness Assistance grant to develop market knowledge and capabilities. These include overseas market setup, identification of overseas market partners, and overseas market promotion.

In addition, we have eight overseas offices in South-east Asia — Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Surabaya and Yangon. Through these offices, we share on-ground developments and insights with companies, advise on setup and regulations and connect them to partners and point them to potential projects.

Companies can visit this link for more information.

Q: My company is keen to prepare our manpower for internationalisation. What courses are available and where can I find out more?

A: SMEs looking to expand overseas can tap the Internationalisation Talent (iTalent) Solutions Map as a guide to understand domains where their existing staff face competency gaps. They can also enrol employees in the Internationalisation Skills (iSkills) Talent Development Programme to build their capabilities and skills.

The iTalent Solutions Map identifies critical internationalisation skills that enterprises need to develop in their workforce in order to operate effectively overseas. This is an initiative by SkillsFuture Singapore and the International Trading Institute at Singapore Management University (ITI@SMU), with support from Enterprise Singapore.

The iSkills Talent Development Programme is designed by ITI@SMU with Ngee Ann Polytechnic as its knowledge partner. The six-month programme adopts an applied learning model that combines classroom, online and experiential learning.

To develop a pipeline of talent to support internationalisation plans, companies can leverage the Global Ready Talent programme (GRT) and Career Conversion Programme (CCP) – Internationalisation Professionals.

GRT exposes young talent to overseas work opportunities and equips them with in-market knowledge and strong cross-cultural understanding. Visit for more information.

The CCP – Internationalisation Professionals combines job-matching and reskilling, through rigorous classroom training and structured on-the-job training, to help companies emplace PMET jobseekers with these new skills in new job roles within the region. Click here for more information.