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BUSINESS opportunities for Singapore companies in Africa and in Latin America and the Carribean (LAC) are now ripe for the picking, a senior official of International Enterprise (IE) Singapore has said.
The agency's assistant chief executive officer Yew Sung Pei said: "Africa and LAC are major emerging markets where globalising Singapore companies can still grow their presence significantly. There are more opportunities than takers at the moment."
IE Singapore, the government agency tasked with driving Singapore's external economy, has two offices in LAC - one each in Mexico City and Sao Paolo in Brazil - and two in Africa, which are in Accra (Ghana) and Johannesburg (South Africa).
These overseas centres - there are a total of 39 worldwide - work at facilitating greater trade and investment cooperation between Singapore and the city and region in which they are sited.
In an interview with The Business Times, Mr Yew said Singapore firms can succeed in Africa and LAC if they invest the time and energy to understand the openings available there, how to manage the risks and adapt their offerings for these markets.
He noted that both these regions are similar in nature: They have rich natural resources, a large and young population with a dynamic middle class, and a lack of infrastructure.
Mr Yew cited the natural resource, infrastructure, logistics, trading and consumer sectors as among those that offer a wide range of business opportunities.
On the differences between the regions, he noted that LAC is more developed and includes several middle-income countries with a longer history of industrialisation and infrastructure development.
Africa, on the other hand, is geographically closer to Singapore, and many African countries share a similar British colonial history, language and legal and education system with Singapore.
IE Singapore counts more than 100 Singapore companies with a presence in LAC; these include Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts, Olam International, Wilmar and ST Electronics.
Singapore's investments in LAC totalled S$6.66 billion in 2014; the Republic is now the fourth-largest Asian investor in Mexico and Brazil.
As for Africa, more than 60 Singapore firms are operating across 50 countries in the continent; among them are Surbana Jurong, Meinhardt, Kheng Kheng Auto and Vega Foods.
Water-solutions provider Hyflux launched its first township project in Tanzania this year; Shipping company PIL is developing an oilfield logistics and supply base on the border of Tanzania and Mozambique to support new gas discoveries off the coast of east Africa.
Mr Yew said there will be larger investments from Singapore into Africa in the coming years, due to Africa achieving widespread political, economic and social stability over the last few decades.
Singapore's economic ties with Africa have grown steadily: Since 2005, bilateral trade has grown at a compounded annual growth rate of 5.2 per cent, reaching S$11.5 billion last year. As at end-2014, Singapore's cumulative direct investments into Africa stood at S$22.1 billion.
Next week, IE Singapore is organising the latest edition of its Africa-Singapore Business Forum, a biennial event that brings business and government leaders together to foster greater investment, trade and thought leadership between Africa and Asia.
The two-day forum opening on Wednesday will feature a keynote panel with Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
This is the fourth such conference that IE Singapore has organised.
Mr Yew said that Singapore companies now have a more nuanced understanding of the continent. With Africa being one of the world's fastest-urbanising regions, Mr Yew said the need for infrastructure will be high; an estimated US$93 billion a year over the next decade will be required to close the infrastructure gap.
He added: "Singapore companies' experience in urban planning, industrial-zone development, transportation and logistics, water and power position them well to take on these projects."