SINGAPORE: Between March and December last year, about S$17.4 billion in loans were extended to more than 20,000 firms under schemes supported by Enterprise Singapore (ESG), introduced and enhanced to tackle challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis.
This is more than 13 times the amount of aid extended under ESG-supported loans in 2019, when about S$1.3 billion was given out, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing on Friday (Jan 8).
The loans extended during the COVID-19 outbreak help ensure companies can "continue to function, to make sure they retain their capabilities and capacities", Mr Chan told reporters on the sidelines of a visit to wholesale trade firm PS Energy, which distributes fuels and lubricants.
Under schemes such as the Temporary Bridging Loan Programme, ESG bears 90 per cent of the risk for such loans, allowing financial institutions to provide them on more favourable terms.
In response to media queries, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said wholesale trade made up about 20 per cent of the loans extended, while the construction sector made up about 16 per cent and manufacturing 13 per cent. The rest were for other sectors such as services and retail trade.
Mr Chan noted that cash and credit flow were among the biggest challenges facing companies in the wholesale trade sector.
"But having said that, we have also strengthened the capabilities of these companies in preparing them to seize the new opportunities going forward," he said.
Singapore's wholesale trade sector accounts for more than 320,000 jobs - or 9 per cent of the country's workforce. There are more than 50,000 firms in the sector, which contributes 12 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product (GDP).
This makes the value of the industry "pretty high", said Mr Chan, noting the uneven effect the coronavirus pandemic has had on the sector.
As the economy progressively recovers, schemes aimed at helping the various industries will also evolve, said Mr Chan.
"Some of the schemes will progressively wind down as the economy recovers, and we can release the resources to help the other sectors that are more in need," he said.
The Government is "cautiously optimistic" about the wholesale trade sector's fortunes this year, he said, adding that industry players he spoke to expect a rebound for most of the sub-sectors under the industry.
Shifts in global and regional supply chains will affect the industry in the coming years, providing both opportunities and challenges, he said.
To help companies weather such changes, the Government has helped them build up their capabilities in digital technologies for traceability and transparency, as well as the use of data and artificial intelligence in pricing mechanisms to allow them to be more competitive, he said.
"The second aspect of the capability buildup is something that we have done for companies like PS energy, where they participated in the Scale Up programme, which is how do we fundamentally transform the model of the wholesale trade, where it goes beyond just trying to earn the margin from the arbitrage activities? How do they value add to the kind of services that they provide to the customer?" he said.
The use of data and digital tools has changed arbitrage, he noted, adding that the wholesale sector, in particular firms dealing with energy trading, suffered from "a lot of difficulties in giving assurance in terms of transparency and traceability in the past".
The use of technology has helped changed this, he said.
The search for "resilience, reliability, and also the conventional efficiency of operations" will change the wholesale trade factor, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic, said Mr Chan.
"Now, this also presents opportunities for the wholesale trade sector companies, because in Singapore, we have built a reputation of being efficient, reliable, dependable, and this adds to the resilience of their supply chains. So this is an added service that we can provide for the rest of the world," he said.