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IE Singapore helps SMEs tap booming Vietnam market

International Enterprise Singapore has been very busy in Vietnam, says Ivan Tan, its group director for Southeast Asia and Oceania. IE Singapore is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry. “Our main role is to help Singapore companies expand their footprint overseas, and to promote trade between other countries and Singapore,” he adds.

In Southeast Asia, IE Singapore has eight offices in six countries. Indonesia and Vietnam, “the two busiest markets”, says Tan, are the only countries with two offices each. In the latter, the offices are in the capital city of Hanoi and the largest city in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City.

Interest in Vietnam heightened when the government relaxed foreign ownership rules in 2015. In addition to allowing foreigners to buy property, it also relaxed the foreign ownership limit on acquisition of companies. This means that foreign investors will now be able to own 100% of big Vietnamese companies.

The financial sector is one that presents “huge potential” for Singapore banks, says Tan. In March, United Overseas Bank became the first bank from Singapore to be granted preliminary approval for a foreign-owned subsidiary licence. In 2013, UOB set up a foreign direct investment advisory unit in Vietnam, offering services to its clients who aim to expand their businesses within the country.


Tan: We’re encouraging more start-ups in the tech sector to enter Vietnam


Another sector in Vietnam that is attracting the interest of small and medium-sized companies from Singapore is F&B and lifestyle. In 2015, IE Singapore conducted a workshop offering training, networking sessions and site visits to the different malls. “The workshop was targeted at SMEs as they may not have the resources to undertake such educational trips on their own,” says Tan. “It also helps speed up the learning process.”

He adds that among the SMEs in the F&B industry that have entered Vietnam is Lao Ban Soya Beancurd, which has rebranded itself as Xiao Ban Soya Beancurd there.

Another Singapore F&B company that is also in Vietnam is Pontian Wonton Noodle House — located, incidentally, in SC VivoCity in Ho Chi Minh City, a shopping mall developed by Singapore’s Mapletree Investments. “SC VivoCity and Mapletree Business Centre are the Singapore icons in Ho Chi Minh City,” says Tan.

Another Singapore F&B group that has made inroads into Vietnam on its own is The Les Amis Group, which was founded by Singaporeans and started with just one French fine-dining restaurant of the same name in Singapore in 1994. Today, it is a sprawling restaurant group with 20 different concepts, including Vietnamese pho chain NamNam Noodle Bar, French-style eatery Bistro du Vin, and Peperoni Pizzeria. In Vietnam, Les Amis is represented by Sorae Sushi Sake Lounge, San Fu Lou Cantonese Kitchen and Di Mai. The last offers a blend of Vietnamese street food.

Property developers such as CapitaLand and Keppel Land represent “the first wave” of Singapore companies that established a beachhead in Vietnam in the early 1990s, notes Tan.

Besides F&B operators, he also sees opportunities for start-up companies in Vietnam’s burgeoning tech sector. An example is Ninja Van, founded by three Singaporeans. It started out by offering next-day door-to-door delivery for customers of e-commerce firms, and is now a Southeast Asian logistics firm, with a presence in Vietnam.

“We’re encouraging more start-ups to enter Vietnam,” Tan says. He sees opportunities for tech companies in the booming consumer-to-consumer business. He is also optimistic about their prospects, given Vietnam’s young population and its positioning as “the manufacturing powerhouse in Southeast Asia”.

This article appeared in The Edge Property Pullout, Issue 778 (May 8, 2017) of The Edge Singapore.

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