Local firms drawn to vast potential

People pass the skyline of the central business district of Singapore on Aug 8, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Local businesses are keen to capitalise on Africa's vast potential, despite the difficulties of doing business there. Bosses, many from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), told The Straits Times they are excited about Africa's momentum and potential, and plan to expand operations there.

Mr Shaun Jayaratnam, associate vice-president of Vega Foods, which sells products like spaghetti and canned goods in 30 African countries, said it had been expanding to two new markets every year. He was optimistic about new agreements signed by Singapore with Mozambique and Ethiopia, which could reduce costs.

"This will certainly encourage more Singapore companies to go into these markets," he said.

SMEs might prefer to head to South-east Asia, but Mr Lawrence Chan, managing director of Asiatic Agricultural Industries, which produces agricultural chemicals for sale in Asia and Africa, said he felt "Africa is more dynamic".

"South-east Asia is too close to India and China, where we are already feeling their saturation."

Mr Chan, who spends three months a year in Africa, added that while operating costs are high, he faces the same playing field as local competitors.

Despite more efforts to boost Singapore investment in Africa, Mr G. Jayakrishnan, International Enterprise's group director for Middle East and Africa, said there has not been a huge surge of interest but "a steady increase" instead.

Encouraged by the growing awareness, he said: "Companies have a more nuanced understanding... They have a much better appreciation of the opportunities and challenges."

The Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) is hoping to tap the momentum. It is organising the inaugural Africa-Asean Business Expo in Johannesburg with its partners next year.

SMF emeritus president George Huang hopes that at least 80 companies from both continents will exhibit at the expo.

Lee Xin En

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline Local firms drawn to vast potential. Subscribe