The Malay/Muslim business community was urged to step up efforts to capitalise on growth in the region amid a slowing of the domestic economy.
Mr Teo Ser Luck, the Minister of State for Trade and Industry, told 300 business leaders on Tuesday that the rapid growth of the Indonesian economy and the liberalisation of the Malaysian service sector hold great opportunities for Singapore firms.
But he also noted that Malay/Muslim businesses have been slow to venture overseas.
A 2007 survey by the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that more than 70 per cent of such businesses here are in the retail and services sector and serve mainly the local market, he noted.
"Competition is intense in these sectors as our domestic market is limited," said Mr Teo, who was speaking at the Malay/Muslim Business Conference.
"In the longer run, our (small-and medium-sized enterprises) need to make a leap beyond Singapore, especially into Asia, to capture these overseas growth opportunities."
SMCCI president Abdul Rohim Sarip said that while it is still true that most Malay/Muslim businesses are hesitant to venture far beyond Singapore, increasing numbers are keen to expand into neighbouring countries.
The chamber's business missions to Malaysia and Indonesia are especially popular, with more companies signing up every year, he told The Straits Times on the sidelines of the event.
"Manpower and capital are still their main obstacles to venturing abroad," he said.
"Our job as the chamber is to help them expand their capacity and help them grow through grants and consultancy."
Cathay Organisation chief executive officer Suhaimi Rafdi, who made a presentation about his firm's own internationalisation journey, told the audience that size and scale do matter when going abroad.
His advice to small firms is to combine strengths with other companies before venturing out of Singapore.
"Build strategic alliances - form among yourselves partnerships of two or three small companies into a medium-sized entity, pool your complementary strengths and come out together as one," he said.
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