Finding opportunities in frontier markets

Local businesses should explore emerging markets such as those in West Africa and the Middle East to drive growth

As competition becomes more intense, local businesses looking to spread their wings abroad should look towards less developed markets which offer greater potential for growth.

“The allure of these emerging markets lies in the potential payoff when companies establish their businesses and entrench their positions at a time when competitive rules can still be shaped with relative ease,” said Soo Wei Chieh, SBF’s Executive Director, AEMEA (Americas, Europe, Central & South Asia, Africa, Middle East, and Oceania), Global Business Division. Meanwhile, the threshold that companies need to cross in order to succeed in developed markets is typically higher, he added.

Mr Soo and his team focus much of their attention on markets in emerging Europe, Central and South Asia, as well as Africa and the Middle East, as companies would generally find them less accessible and as such, require more assistance.

Raising awareness

In an era of diminished attention spans, SBF is ramping up its efforts to raise awareness of these markets. “We are trying to get the attention of busy business executives and are thinking of ways to adapt our messages for new media. These messages, communicated through digital platforms, will complement the real touchpoints that we continue to curate still: business forums, seminars, roundtables, and of course, the delegation visits to new markets,” said Mr Soo.

In November this year, SBF and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) led business missions to Ivory Coast and Ghana in West Africa, as well as Saudi Arabia to help Singapore companies gain a foothold in these frontier markets.

In Ghana, Senior Minister (SM) and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam chaired a business dialogue at the Ghana-Singapore Business Forum with close to 200 Singapore and African business leaders to discussed how Singapore companies could add value to the region.

He noted that while Ghana serves as a gateway for international companies to enter the West Africa region, West African companies could similarly look to Singapore as a gateway to growing Asia markets. SM Tharman was accompanied by Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Trade and Industry Dr Tan Wu Meng, and 17 Singapore small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

There are currently more than 30 Singapore companies operating in Ghana across sectors such as fintech, urban development, agribusiness, oil and gas, and fast-moving consumer goods. The business mission to Ghana and the Ivory Coast was held from November 3-9.

“Africa is often viewed as a challenging market meant only for the bigger corporations. But it actually offers a wide array of opportunities for SME entrants to explore and capture, given their nimble structures,” said Venkataramani Srivathsan, Vice Chairman, SBF’s AfBG and Managing Director and CEO, Africa and Middle East, Olam International Limited.

“The key to success will be to engage with trustworthy local partners which is essential for relationship-building and navigating local regulations and requirements. Africa is opportunity rich, and we continuously see investable projects and opportunities available despite our established presence.”

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2020

Meanwhile, 30 business owners and C-suite personnel from the information technology and infrastructure sectors headed to Saudi Arabia from 3 to 8 November 2019 as part of an Overseas Market Workshop (OMW) organised by SBF and ESG. The trip was held in conjunction with President of Singapore Mdm Halimah Yacob’s first state visit to the country.

The mission explored potential opportunities that may arise as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative, which will focus on the development of the country’s education, healthcare, infrastructure, recreation and tourism sectors, and is aimed at increasing foreign direct investment.

“As the country evolves into a globally competitive ICT hub, investment opportunities abound for our Singapore companies, including the development of digital content and media, the expansion of the telecommunication system, the digitalisation transformation of the country, and the creation of new high-tech and smart industries,” said Shamsher Zaman, Singapore’s non-resident Ambassador to Jordan and also Chairman of SBF’s Middle East Business Group.

As part of the OMW, delegates met with local companies and government ministries to better understand investment and collaboration opportunities in the country.

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