SINGAPORE: A new industry transformation map for the wholesale trade industry which aims to help companies digitalise to enhance global growth and productivity was unveiled by Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran on Wednesday (Sep 6).
The roadmap targets to create 10,000 new jobs by 2020.
Trade agency IE Singapore said the wholesale trade industry comprises more than 34,000 firms and provides livelihoods for more than 325,000, accounting for 9 per cent of Singapore's workforce in 2016.
The industry deals with business-to-business transaction of goods such as electronics, pharmaceutical items, food and commodities.
Companies within the industry exist throughout the supply chain, including brand owners, agents, brokers, distributors, and the trading arms of manufacturers and retailers.
DRIVING THE GROWTH OF WHOLESALE TRADE
Strong demand for infrastructure and the rise of consumerism in the region are expected to drive the growth of the wholesale trade industry in Singapore, said Mr Iswaran.
"This will spur the region's demand for goods such as food, infrastructure, fuel and smart devices, all of which will catalyse trade and trade value-added services," he said.
However, being externally oriented, the industry is also susceptible to headwinds from the region. Ms April Lim, who is head of market and business development at Raduga, said currency movements and political climate are key things the company looks out for.
Citing the example of India, Ms Lim said: "With their demonetisation, that affects demand and supply in that particular country which then flows to other countries."
New technology is also expected to disrupt the industry.
"The B2B e-commerce market is projected to reach US$6.7 trillion by 2020 riding on improved digital connectivity and the emergence of new platforms," said Mr Iswaran. "Innovation cycles are becoming shorter, and enterprises must continually adapt and connect to emerging networks to stay ahead of the curve."
The industry transformation map for wholesale trade was launched with two broad strategies to address these trends.
The first involves building trade connectivity through digital marketplaces and platform. One such effort is the development of an ASEAN digital trade facilitation platform, so customs clearance can be done through a single trade window. This is led by the Singapore Logistics Association, and links the association with others from ASEAN.
A cross-border trade platform launched earlier by GeTS Global is also about to get a leg up, through a collaboration with tech giant IBM Asia Pacific. This platform allows businesses to manage compliance from different trading systems, and will tap on IBM's supply chain business network to do automated customs declaration at 18 custom nodes across the world.
Industry and trade associations and chambers will also be roped in, to help small- and medium-sized enterprises list in digital marketplaces so they can have greater access to new markets.
BUILDING THE TALENT POOL
Meanwhile, with 10,000 jobs expected to be created by 2020, the industry transformation map will focus on equipping people with the right skills to enter the industry.
Some of these efforts are already in place, including degree programmes at both the Singapore Management University and the Nanyang Technological University.
A first-of-its-kind International Trade and Business diploma will be launched at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic. It will start in April 2018 and is expected to take in 120 students for the first cohort.
The Singapore University of Social Sciences also signed an agreement to launch a certificate in international trade. This is expected to benefit professionals seeking part-time degrees and continuing education and training to join the sector.
While a professional conversion programme (PCP) for international trading has already been launched, a new PCP to enable workers to become "South-east Asia-ready" will be developed by IE Singapore and the Singapore Business Federation.
A skills framework for the sector is expected to be launched in partnership with SkillsFuture Singapore and NTUC in the second half of 2018.
Industry observers were keen to stress that many of the new opportunities also require skill sets, such as digital marketing and data analytics, which are applicable to other industries.
Said Cargill's senior delivery advisor Michael Ong: "The same skillsets can still be applicable, even though it is wholesale trade. Wholesale trade is very diverse, it covers many aspects and there will be many opportunities out there."
Ms Lim also said: "It's not just about the buying and selling of boxes."
Newly formed agency Enterprise Singapore will become the lead agency driving the transformation of the wholesale trade industry.
"We will assist local enterprises to build strong in-market capabilities and acquire strategic assets that can help them gain a competitive edge in global markets," said Mr Iswaran.