In this interview, Kow Juan Tiang, Executive Director for Southeast Asia at Enterprise Singapore, talks about the economic trends post-pandemic, the role of technology in SEA’s future, sustainable growth initiatives, and the unique opportunities and challenges for businesses in the region. We’re unraveling the collaborative efforts between Vietnam and Singapore, their joint strides toward sustainability, and the exceptional business prospects on the horizon. Join us as we break down the complex business landscape into clear, actionable insights with Kow Juan Tiang.
Sustainability is a global concern, and Singapore is leading the charge with its Green Plan 2030. Singaporean companies are exporting sustainable solutions to SEA markets, including Vietnam.
Vietnam’s unique charm within ASEAN lies in its rapid growth and thriving middle class. The Singaporean executive director suggests Vietnamese companies explore partnerships with Singapore for shared growth.
Here, we simplify the complexities, exploring Vietnam’s business landscape with insights from Kow Juan Tiang on economic trends, technology, sustainability, and Vietnam’s role in ASEAN.
What are the current economic trends in Southeast Asia (SEA) after the pandemic, and how can Vietnam and Singapore collaborate in the region’s economic recovery?
As the Southeast Asia (SEA) region emerges from the pandemic, we are observing bright spots with strong growth potential, particularly in areas such as manufacturing and the green economy.
Global supply chain disruptions during the pandemic have prompted global manufacturers to prioritize supply chain diversification strategies and resilience in the past two years. Consequently, we have witnessed SEA emerging as a complementary manufacturing hub for global corporations. In particular, Vietnam has become an attractive manufacturing destination due to its competitive operational costs, strategic location serving both source and demand markets, well-connected transport routes, and an extensive network of free trade agreements that manufacturers can leverage to expand their exports. This attractiveness has led multinational corporations, such as Apple, to extend their production lines for flagship products like MacBooks and AirPods to Vietnam.
Furthermore, Vietnam is making additional investments in infrastructure development to support the business requirements of companies drawn to its manufacturing sector. For example, the state-owned developer Becamex IDC is collaborating with Singapore’s Sembcorp Industries to establish ten additional Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Parks (VSIPs) in the country under their joint venture. These parks aim to accommodate new manufacturers and their factories.
Amid the global transition to low-carbon economies, it is estimated that SEA’s green economy could provide up to US$1 trillion in economic opportunities by 2030 across various sectors like agrifood, electric mobility, solar, and nature-based solutions. Additionally, many SEA countries are contributing to building renewable energy capabilities to meet the growing demand for electricity and support the energy transition.
On this front, Vietnam has signed agreements with Singapore to collaborate on various aspects related to the green economy. This includes carbon credit pilot projects, the development and financing of renewable energy, and the advancement of low-carbon electricity connectivity grids. According to the ‘Southeast Asia’s Green Economy 2023 Report’ by Bain & Company, Temasek, GenZero, and Amazon Web Services, SEA is actively engaged in research and development and the deployment of low-carbon energy technologies and solutions, such as hydrogen, ammonia, and energy storage systems.
How crucial is technology and innovation to SEA’s economic future, and how are Vietnam and Singapore collaborating on this?
SEA is a rapidly developing region and the world’s fifth-largest economy. Around 60% of the population in the region is under 35, indicating a concentrated, youthful, and tech-savvy market segment that is open to embracing innovative solutions. This provides significant opportunities for technology disruptors and startups to seize new technology and innovation prospects in the region.
To foster knowledge exchange and facilitate opportunities within the technology and innovation ecosystem in SEA, Enterprise Singapore (EnterpriseSG) has expanded our Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) to Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The GIA aims to establish a global network connecting Singapore and other international startups to leading innovation ecosystems worldwide.
In Vietnam, we have witnessed successful partnerships between Singapore and Vietnamese companies following the launch of our Vietnam GIA Acceleration Programme in 2019, in collaboration with Quest Ventures. Sixty-three Singapore-based startups participated in eight cohorts of the Vietnam GIA Acceleration Programme from 2020 to 2023. Since then, 18 Singapore startups have either established a presence in Vietnam or formed collaborations with in-market partners. One notable example is myFirst, a company that develops technology gadgets for children, including wireless earbuds, headphones, smartwatch phones, instant print cameras, and drawing tablets. These products aim to revolutionize how children learn and play through the safe use of technology. After myFirst participated in the sixth cohort of the Vietnam GIA Acceleration Programme, it has established its business in Hanoi and is selling its products in the market through two Vietnamese distributors.
What are the efforts in SEA, specifically in Vietnam and Singapore, to foster sustainable growth?
As a country with limited resources, Singapore has devised the Singapore Green Plan 2030 roadmap to advance our sustainable development agenda and set clear targets for our long-term net-zero emissions goal by 2050. Simultaneously, we prioritize innovative infrastructure and urban solutions, ranging from diversifying water sources for resilience to adopting renewable energy for enhanced energy security, and sustainable urban planning to improve citizens’ living environments. Singaporean companies play a crucial role in this sustainable development journey, having accumulated expertise and a track record, particularly in sustainable infrastructure, renewable energy, and resource optimization solutions. This positions them well to export their solutions and operational expertise to meet the needs of other SEA markets, including Vietnam.
For instance, Singapore’s leading utilities company, SP Group, has undertaken the development of over 115 MWp of rooftop solar projects across Vietnam through various partnerships and joint ventures. These initiatives aim to introduce sustainable energy solutions to the market. Partnerships, such as with CJ OliveNetworks Vina Co., involve joint investments, construction, and development of up to 50 MWp of rooftop solar projects in Vietnam over the next two years. There’s also an agreement to install up to 20 MWp of rooftop solar power at three mega factories for TKG Taekwang Vina.
Considering the young demographic in Vietnam and SEA, what opportunities and challenges do you see for regional businesses?
SEA’s young population, skilled at embracing new technologies, presents significant opportunities in key digital sectors like e-commerce, financial services, on-demand transport, food delivery services, healthtech, and edtech. This surge has led to the rapid emergence of startups in the region, with over 50 unicorns expected to collectively reach a value of US$1 trillion by 2025, compared to US$340 billion in 20202. Vietnam alone currently boasts four unicorns and over 3,800 startups.
To sustain their positive growth momentum, companies and startups should focus on innovation to diversify their product portfolios and enhance their value propositions to meet new market demands. Additionally, exploring internationalization opportunities in new markets is crucial for enhancing global competitiveness. As one of the leading business and innovation hubs in SEA, Singapore provides a complementary location for regional companies to leverage its ecosystem of business and professional services firms, startups, accelerators, research institutions, and venture capital firms to establish new partnerships and foster further growth.
How does Vietnam stand out in the ASEAN region due to its rapid economic growth, and how can it use this uniqueness for future growth? Looking ahead, what advice do you have for Vietnamese companies aiming to expand further?
Given Vietnam’s positive economic outlook and a large domestic market with a growing middle class, the country is an attractive investment destination in SEA. Notably, Vietnam’s energy, infrastructure development, manufacturing, and consumer sectors offer robust opportunities due to their strong growth potential. We encourage Vietnamese companies in these sectors to consider exploring mutually beneficial partnerships with Singapore companies. Singaporean companies can provide technical expertise, regional networks, and experience to co-develop innovative products and solutions, capturing new market demand in the region.
Through our two Overseas Centres in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, EnterpriseSG will continue to connect Vietnamese and Singapore companies, fostering collaboration opportunities across both countries.