THE European Union (EU) and Singapore share many common interests and goals. Among these is an unfettered commitment to promote strong and sustainable economic development that delivers good quality jobs. In this respect, both parties have recognised the strategic importance of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as a key source of growth for the future.

SMEs form the backbone of our economies. In Singapore, they make up 99 per cent of all registered companies and account for around half of GDP and 70 per cent of employment. Similarly, in the EU, more than 20 million SMEs represent over 99 per cent of businesses, they provide two out of three jobs in the private sector and contribute to more than half the total value-added created by businesses.

Smaller and nimbler, SMEs can adapt more quickly to market conditions and are better placed to embrace change. Often pioneers in developing and adapting new technologies, they bring innovation to the economy and maintain their space in the market by moving faster and working more efficiently. A thriving SME ecosystem not only fosters a vibrant business environment, but creates the very conditions fundamental for stimulating smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

In pursuit of this quality growth, Singapore already operates a series of programmes to assist SMEs. Led by Spring Singapore and International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, these support measures focus on a number of areas including productivity, innovation and capability upgrading, as well as collaboration in view of exploring growth opportunities overseas. In this regard, government agencies encourage internationalisation and help local players identify and harness external business opportunities that promote the development of capabilities and growth. For instance, IE Singapore has a track record of working with the various chambers of commerce from EU Member States to lead business missions to the EU, the most recent of which took place only last month.

In a similar fashion, the EU works to explore new market opportunities for its SMEs to help improve their performance, enhance their competitiveness and support their long-term sustainability. As part of these efforts, Business Centres have been set up to help European SMEs enter new markets. These centres provide a range of business support services including matchmaking, market access assistance, guidance on regulatory issues and targeted advice on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

To further bolster our assistance to SMEs interested in this region, the EU has launched a business support programme for Asean. The inaugural business mission, EU Business Avenues in South East Asia, will bring around 40 SMEs from across the EU, active in the sectors of renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology, to Singapore and Malaysia. These companies will visit the region to showcase their innovations, market their products and seek new business partnerships with local and regional players.

Singapore's thriving economy, dynamic SME business environment and open markets make the republic an obvious country as the springboard to Asean. These 40 SMEs from 18 different Member States will bring innovative and high technology offerings in biogas, biomass, energy conservation / efficiency, solar, power generation and co-generation technologies - all leveraging and building on Singapore's status as a regional hub for clean technologies.

Spanning from organic waste and waste-water solutions, energy management software and advanced materials for construction and green building applications, to specialised and remote monitoring equipment, energy solutions for industry and utilities, as well as cooling, gas and PV-related modules, enhancers and optimisers - this first business mission will put on display a wide range of leading and functional solutions that the EU has to offer in response to diverse business needs.

In preparing to bring some of the EU's best SMEs to Singapore and the region, the EU works closely with a range of stakeholders from the SME community - including Spring, IE Singapore, the Energy Market Authority (EMA) and the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore (SEAS) - all of whom have shared their interests in promoting our shared objectives. Past EU business missions to South Korea and Japan have proven to be a resounding success, resulting in significant new business collaborations and revenue growth for both local and European SMEs. Our goal is to replicate this success in Singapore and across Asean.

As Singapore and the EU strive to develop their SMEs through higher value-added activities as well as external market opportunities, we must work to exploit the synergies of our respective support programmes to help our SMEs grow stronger together. In occasion of our first business mission, local businesses and stakeholders will have the chance to meet the SMEs from the EU at the Singapore International Energy Week from Oct 28-29 or during the EU Business Avenues Networking Session on Oct 31, in Kuala Lumpur.

I look forward to welcome all business actors - large and small - interested in meeting SMEs from the EU with high technology offerings and to continue working with local stakeholders towards the shared objective of delivering success to SMEs.

The writer is the Ambassador of the European Union to Singapore