Singapore (CNN) – An export-dependent nation with a strong service sector, Singapore was one of the first nations in Asia to suffer from the global financial crisis. But it aims to recover by becoming a strategic economic hub.
Singapore may be a small country, but thanks to its strategic location it’s one of the world’s busiest ports. It is also well positioned to capitalize on growing trade links between other parts of Asia and the Middle East.
Already well known as a global logistics and trans-shipment hub, Singapore says trade with the Middle East has climbed by 36% since 2006. One example is plastics. Borouge – a joint venture between Abu Dhabi’s national oil company and Austrian company Borealis – manufactures plastic pellets in Abu Dhabi and sends them to Asia through Singapore.
It set up operations in Singapore to be closer to its customers in the Asian market.
Wim Roels, CEO of Borouge, told CNN’s Liz Neisloss: “Most of these products are coming into Asia and are going into Southeast Asia, into China, to be part of the fantastic growth this region experienced.
“We are supplying products in a very wide area of industries going from automotive, infrastructure, all kinds of packaging applications. So we are really able to participate in the fantastic growth that Asia has experienced.”
Singapore consistently ranks atop the World Bank’s ease of doing business survey. Borouge says reasons range from low tax rates to no foreign exchange controls.
“I’ve never experienced this – where the government is proactively helping you to make a success out of the business,” Roels said.
“Most of the time you need to go to government and try to get support and try to get things done,” he added. “Here it’s the opposite. They come to you and help you and really encourage you and give you ideas of what to look for and what the opportunities are.”
As well as plastics coming in from the Middle East, chocolate is heading in the opposite direction. Singapore-based Aalst chocolates is currently in nine countries in the Middle East and sees potential for more.
“Over the last 10 years, they find the European chocolates are getting too expensive and Asia’s quality is getting better and better, and I think there is a good match between Singapore and the Middle East,” said Connie Kwan, co-founder of Aalst Chocolate.
But tastes are not the same everywhere and Aalst refined its product to suit the Middle Eastern palate.
“They want to have very milky creamy milk chocolate,” said Kwan. “For the Asian, particularly the north Asian, like very bitter dark chocolate and the Middle Eastern people love very creamy milk chocolate. So this is something that they wanted to achieve and we took about two-three years before we could achieve (this) to their liking.”
A free-trade agreement signed between Singapore and the six Gulf Cooperation council countries should pave the path for more sweet success.