Singapore, Shenzhen push smart city partnership with SMB hub

Singapore and the Chinese city ink multiple MOU to ease cross-border access to market opportunities, including "mutual recognition" of both cities' digital identity regimes and plans to launch an SMB platform -- operational next month -- to connect buyers and sellers between Asean and China.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore and the Chinese city of Shenzhen have pushed forward with several smart city initiatives that include the launch of an Asian SME (small and midsize enterprise) hub to connect businesses and facilitate transactions between Asean and China. Eight Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) have been signed with the aim to drive digital connectivity as well as ease cross-border access to market opportunities in Southeast Asia and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

First announced last October, the Singapore-China (Shenzhen) Smart City Initiative kicked off its first meeting with the eight MOU agreements, which were focused on the three primary areas of digital connectivity, innovation and entrepreneurship, and ICT skills development. 

The new SME Hub, for instance, would provide access to an ecosystem of buyers, sellers, logistics services providers, financing, and digital tools, according to a joint statement released Wednesday by the two partners. Slated to begin operations next month, an initial base of 50 Singapore-based SMBs would have immediate access to some 4 million buyers from China's YiQiYe SMB community. These 50 SMBs currently sell an array of industrial hardware, chemicals, safety, medical, and office supplies on Singapore's business-to-business (B2B) online marketplace Eezee.sg, which is supported by industry regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Enterprise Singapore under the country's Grow Digital initiative. 

The Asian SME Hub would be developed and managed in Singapore over three years by OneConnect Financial Technology, a subsidiary of China's Ping An Group, and would look to equip SMBs with the necessary capabilities, such as an integrated eKYC (electronic Know-Your-Customer) tool to conduct secured business transactions. 

The SME Hub also would tap data algorithms to match businesses with the most relevant products, connecting buyers in China and SMB suppliers in Singapore. In addition, the hub could create new business opportunities for organisations in associated sectors such as legal, banking, and digital payment.

Other initiatives under the Singapore-Shenzhen smart city included plans to establish "legal certainty" for electronic trade documents used for trade financing, which would facilitate the digitalisation of such processes. Encompassing legal recognition of digital trade documents, such as the electronic Bills of Lading, this two-year MOU aimed to improve overall productivity, reduce financing turnaround time, and lower financial risk for parties involved. Such efforts, in turn, would drive trade growth between the two nations. 

Under another MOU, Enterprise Singapore and the Shenzhen Municipal Service Bureau for SME would collaborate on activities to promote innovation and entrepreneurship between the two cities. The partnership would include plans to facilitate exchanges between tech startups and SMBs, and involve both parties jointly facilitate market access and connections for tech startups and SMBs in their respective local startup ecosystem, talent, investors, customers, and potential collaborators. 

As the smart city initiatives were expected to boost investment and trade activities, it would be necessary to establish an infrastructure to resolve any potential commercial dispute, according to the two partners. An MOU between Singapore International Mediation Centre and Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration would provide a platform for a "hybrid Alternative Dispute Resolution" model, offering a "mediation-arbitration" (med-arb) service to parties in a dispute. They said the hybrid model combined the advantages of mediation, such as flexibility and cost efficiencies, with the ease of enforceability under arbitration, which are important concerns of businesses in managing a dispute.

Towards mutual recognition of digital identity regimes 

Notably, Singapore's Smart Nation and Digital Government Office and China's Shenzhen Government Services Data Bureau also would work towards "mutual recognition" of the two cities' digital identity regimes, the partners said. Both government agencies had developed a roadmap, starting with cross-border data exchange. 

The collaboration would focus on legal regulatory frameworks, supporting digital identities, technical standards for implementation of data exchange, and adoption of digital identities by businesses and individuals to promote digital transactions.

In addition, the two agencies would explore the feasibility of the potential pilot projects involving school and visa applications, with the aim to reduce time taken to process applications and verify the user's identity as well as to facilitate exchanges between both cities. 

Shenzhen Mayor Chen Rugui said: "Shenzhen will follow the principles of 'cooperation for mutual benefits, government-guided, enterprise-ed, and a market-based approach', to comprehensively deepen the Singapore-Shenzhen Smart City Initiative cooperation, accelerate the implementation of cooperation projects in areas such as digital trade, digital payment, cross-border data management, and mutual recognition of digital identities. 

"We will actively promote exchanges between enterprises, research institutions, and institutes of higher learning from both sides, with an aim to jointly create a new benchmark for global smart city cooperation," Chen said.

Permanent Secretary of Singapore's Ministry of Communications and Information, Yong Ying-I, added: "COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of digitalisation in our economies. Singapore will continue to work with like-minded partners like Shenzhen, to drive innovation and entrepreneurship in digital economies, and to enhance trade and connectivity to create exciting opportunities for businesses, communities and individuals."


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