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Singapore Aim: More Latin Business

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Singapore's government aims for more trade and investment ties with Latin America.

BY CHRONICLE STAFF

As if Singapore's trade with Latin America wasn't already growing dramatically - almost 30 percent annually the past three years - the country's authorities are spearheading further efforts at boosting business ties.

"International Enterprise Singapore ... has ... stepped up efforts to identify priority sectors such as oil and gas, ports and logistics for Singapore companies in Latin America," Lim Hng Kiang, Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister, told the Latin Asian Business Forum last week (see Boosting Singapore-Latin Ties).

IE Singapore has already been directly involved in over 25 outgoing and incoming business and study missions between Singapore and Latin America the past year, benefiting some 300 local companies. By the end of the year, the agency hopes to facilitate at least 20 projects in Latin America generating overseas sales of about $150 million Singapore dollars (approximately US$102 million) for Singapore-based companies.

Meanwhile, Singapore-based CrimsonLogic announced that it won a $2.9 million contract to build an electronic documentation system for the administration of the Colon Free Zone in Panama, the world's second-largest free trade zone. "This is another significant milestone for CrimsonLogic in Panama," Leong Peng Kiong, CEO of CrimsonLogic, said in a statement last week. CrimsonLogic already had received a $4 million contract to build an advanced data collection system for the Panama Canal Authority.

The new electronic system will give the Colon Free Zone Administration a 360° view of the movement of goods within the free zone and enables freight forwarders, customs brokers, importers and exporters to file all their documentation to the Colon Free Zone Administration and the Panama Customs electronically through the system, according to CrimsonLogic.  "When fully operational, the electronic documentation system for the Colon Free Zone will give a further boost to Panama’s position as an international trade and logistics hub in Latin America," Peng Kiong said.

FELLOWSHIPS AND BUSINESS REPRESENTATIVE

To boost Singapore's ties with Latin America further, IE Singapore has now extended its International Business Fellowship (IBF) Program – already in place for other emerging markets such as Central Asia, China, India, Russia, the Middle East and Vietnam – to Latin America.

"Understanding an overseas market and building a strong foundation require Singapore-based companies to learn and better understand their Latin American counterparts," Lim said. "The IBF – which will have access to 10 million Singapore dollars over the next four years – will enable Singapore-based companies to send their employees to Latin America to undergo executive management training and market immersion programs."

Meanwhile, Jose Antonio Rios - a widely-respected veteran of Latin American and international business - has been recruited to serve as IE Singapore's honorary business representative to promote trade, investment and related economic activities between Singapore and Latin America. IE Singapore already has two offices in Mexico City and Sao Paulo in addition to honorary business representatives in Santiago and Mexico City.

Rios is chairman of Global Crossing, a U.S.-based, but Singapore-owned telecom equipment company. Until recently he worked as international president for Global Crossing, where he spearheaded the company's successful international operations and expansion, including the $347 million Global Crossing acquisition of Argentina-based Impsat that concluded in May. Rios has also served in high-ranking positions in companies like Spain-based Telefonica, US-based DirecTV and Venezuela-based Cisneros Group of Companies.  

LATIN COMPANIES TO SINGAPORE

While the number of Singapore companies operating in Latin America has been growing (see Singapore Boosts Latin Trade), so has the number of Latin American companies operating in Singapore.

"As an established finance and business hub in the region, Singapore has also been attracting businesses from Latin America to use the country as a base for expansion into Asia," said Chong Lit Cheong, CEO of IE Singapore.

Brazilian companies like CVRD (the world's largest iron ore producer) and Embraer (the world's fourth-largest aircraft maker) have set up offices in Singapore to boost Asia sales.

Singapore's trade with Latin America reached 11.8 billion Singapore dollars (approximately US$7.8 billion) last year, an increase of 21.2 percent from 2005, according to IE Singapore data. Singapore's exports to Latin America grew by 25.6 percent to 8.4 billion Singapore dollars, while imports from Latin America increased by 11.4 percent to 3.4 billion Singapore dollars.

Singapore's trade surplus with Latin America has also been growing. Last year's surplus of 5.0 billion Singapore dollars was 36.6 percent higher than in 2005, according to a Latin Business Chronicle analysis of IE Singapore data. It was also twice as high as the 2001 surplus.

However, despite the impressive growth, Latin America still only accounts for 1.46 percent of Singapore’s total trade, Lim pointed out. "There is still much room for growth," he said.

USEFUL NETWORKING

The Latin Asia Business Forum - an annual event organized the last four years by IE Singapore - this year attracted more than 350 business and government leaders from 16 countries. The forum provides updated briefings on Latin America for Asian companies and briefings on Asia for Latin American companies and is a useful networking event and useful venue for corporate meetings.

"Networking is definitely a big part of it," says John Price, president of InfoAmericas, a consultancy that has participated in several of the forums. "It's well-regarded...There's nothing like it."

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