Opportunities in Latin America for Singapore firms

Workers at a Brazil Rapid Transit construction site in Rio de Janeiro's Brasil Avenue. Singapore companies can share their infrastructure concepts with Latin America as the region has a "$170 billion infrastructure gap", says IE Singapore's divisiona
Workers at a Brazil Rapid Transit construction site in Rio de Janeiro's Brasil Avenue. Singapore companies can share their infrastructure concepts with Latin America as the region has a "$170 billion infrastructure gap", says IE Singapore's divisional director of the Americas Group, Ms Sarah Ler.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Singapore firms are being encouraged to look at opportunities in Latin American in areas like infrastructure, manufacturing and consumer products as the region's middle class grows.

Ms Sarah Ler, IE Singapore's divisional director of the Americas Group, speaking at a media briefing last Thursday, said Singapore companies can share their infrastructure concepts with Latin America as the region has a "$170 billion infrastructure gap".

Changi Airports International and port operator PSA Corp are among those that have entered the Latin American market.

Changi Airports won a concession to jointly operate the Rio Galeao Airport in Brazil in 2013 and PSA operates ports in various Latin American countries.

Latin America's middle class represents 30 per cent of the region's population, according to World Bank figures.

The demands of the growing middle-class population include consumer products such as food, apparel and educational materials.

Private publishing firm Marshall Canvendish started a pilot programme to introduce Singapore mathematics to 100 primary schools in Chile four years ago, said Ms Natalie Choo, IE Singapore's group director of the Americas Group, who was also at the briefing.

After a successful pilot programme, the textbooks, translated into Spanish and Portuguese, will be available to more schools in Latin America in the future. Said Ms Choo: "IE Singapore helped to open some of the doors for the Education Ministry, not just in Chile but also the rest of Latin America".

Despite the opportunities available, the region is facing economic challenges from rising United States interest rates, debt levels and corporate scandals.

According to a World Economic Forum report, the biggest challenges for Latin America are corruption, education and skills development, and rising inequality. For instance, Brazil's economy has been affected by low oil prices and a scandal involving state oil giant Petrobras.

Petrobras, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has been embroiled in a corruption scandal since November last year.

Sakura Tech and Sunningdale Tech, two Singapore manufacturing companies based in Brazil, were also affected by the situation there.

However, the companies felt that "things are okay and that they will ride it out", Ms Valenrina Soo, IE Singapore's regional director for South America, said at last Thursday's event.

Ms Soo said Sakura Tech has a technological edge over Brazilian manufacturing companies, which are still using "low-tech manual machines". This is where the Republic's companies can better meet market needs.

"Better technology might be more expensive but if you look at the amount of time needed for production, it's actually more effective."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2015, with the headline 'Opportunities in Latin America for Singapore firms'. Print Edition | Subscribe