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29 Aug 2018 Updated 31 Jan 2019

Singapore, African firms seal deals, eye new markets at business forum

The Business Times Annabeth Leow

Africa's untapped potential as an emerging market proves a draw for firms



INLAND African nations are markets ripe for pre-fabricated infrastructure, according to a Singapore company that churns out such buildings.

Raymond Wong, general manager of Well & Able Holdings, hopes to bring the construction firm into landlocked areas and even move manufacturing operations overseas to Africa.

But until then, he can cheer coastal Senegal as the latest notch in the company's belt, in a warehouse deal unveiled on Tuesday at the opening of the Africa Singapore Business Forum.

The contract with the Compagnie Senegalaise de Transport Transatlantique Afrique de l'Ouest - to design and build a 9,795-square-metre multimodal logistics hub - was one of three memoranda of understanding inked by Singapore companies at the event.

As Sunil Kaushal, Standard Chartered regional chief executive for Africa and the Middle East, said in a panel plenary, companies - especially smaller ones - "need to have the right local partner" to go into Africa, "because there's a lot of handholding required - not because it's Africa, but because it's an emerging market".

Another of the business pacts inked saw Singapore digital solutions firm Graymatics tie up with Kenyan counterpart Crescentech, to work together in areas such as security, banking, telecommunications and retail, and possibly expand into markets such as South Africa and Nigeria.

The third deal brought the Kenya Trade Network Agency (KenTrade) onto the Open Trade Blockchain platform, launched this month in Asean and China by e-solutions firm CrimsonLogic's GeTS Asia subsidiary. CrimsonLogic is 30 per cent-owned by government agency Enterprise Singapore, the forum organiser, with the rest of the company held by Temasek Holdings-owned PSA International.

Amos Wangora, KenTrade's chief executive, told The Business Times on the sidelines of the event: "Blockchain is still very new across the world - not only in Africa - but, of course, once we build this and we have some practical use cases, then we can explore also other markets in Africa."

And first-time attendee Warsama Guirreh, CEO of Djibouti Port Community Systems - another CrimsonLogic client - welcomed the expansion of the company's trade network, saying that the Kenya deal "will definitely facilitate access" to new markets.

"Once you have access to this platform, as long as you have good foundations, you can access all Asian markets as well; and this is something that we're very interested in," he said.

Well & Able has sussed out the diversity across African markets: "We want to bring the technology to Africa to create more employment and, at the same time, have a permanent foothold over there," Mr Wong told BT. Landlocked zones "are areas where economic growth is pretty slow" because of the distance from ports, he added. "Our construction is very suitable for inland countries."

Even Ascott - CapitaLand's serviced residence subsidiary - is headed to Africa next month, with the opening of its first managed property in the Ghanaian capital of Accra.

Thomas Wee, Ascott's regional deputy managing director, spoke at a separate real estate discussion at the forum and later told BT: "We see significant untapped potential in the region's serviced residence market... We expect strong demand from the influx of business and leisure travellers as foreign direct investment continues to increase rapidly in this economic and administrative hub."

Going local could be key, as another plenary speaker, Amr Kamel, executive vice-president of business development and corporate banking at Africa Export-Import Bank, noted: "It's very difficult to sustain a business over the years that is purely reliant on buying in dollars and selling in local currency, because it is an emerging market and there are obviously fluctuations - and at times, very steep fluctuations - in foreign exchange."

Mr Kaushal also said the Republic could be a two-way portal between Africa and South-east Asia: "I think the opportunity for Asia and for Singapore per se is to really get the Asean market to focus more on Africa as well, because those are relatively unexposed."

Besides the pacts inked by the various firms, Enterprise Singapore's Singapore Cooperation Enterprise arm and the Mozambique Investment and Export Promotion Agency agreed to share urban master planning and special economic and industrial zone know-how, while the Singapore Manufacturing Federation and Egyptian Businessmen Association will work on bringing companies together.

Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission