SINGAPORE – Southeast Asia’s economy as a whole is expected to recover in 2021, and strong consumer sentiment and efforts to diversify the Middle East provide the potential for greater economic engagement between the two regions, the Second Minister said. for Trade and Industry Tan See Leng on Tuesday (February 23rd).
Speaking at the Middle East Institute’s annual conference held in practice, he said Singaporean companies, for example, could find opportunities in the food and beverage industry in the Middle East.
He noted that the disposable income of consumers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is increasing by two to three times the global average. They are also becoming increasingly dependent on supermarkets and hypermarkets, instead of small traditional grocery stores.
More than 30 Singapore food companies are doing business in the Middle East and the hope is that more will follow, said Dr Tan, who is also the Second Minister for Human Power.
Speaking in a pre-recorded video, he said: “Apparently, there is a rich potential that can be unlocked through mutual participation in the economic developments of the respective regions.”
Singapore is also the ideal departure panel for Middle Eastern companies to enter Southeast Asia, he said. Singapore’s bilateral trade with countries in the Middle East has grown at a complex annual growth rate of 4.2 percent over the past five years to reach $ 43.2 billion ($ 57.5 billion).
With low oil and gas prices and the global economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, some Gulf countries have accelerated their economic diversification efforts, he said. This has also created opportunities in sectors such as e-commerce, health and finance.
The recently concluded General Regional Economic Partnership opens up new opportunities for trade and mutual investment, he said, noting that there has been interest from countries in other regions such as the Middle East to join the pact.
This is possible because of Asean’s open regionalism practice as a way to further integrate its economies with the global economy, Dr Tan said.
Southeast Asia is a region to which the Middle East should pay more attention, he said. It is projected to be the fourth largest economy in the world by 2030 and its overall GDP growth is expected to return to 5.6 percent in 2021.
The infrastructure needs of Southeast Asia – which are required to support its economic growth – present a large number of investment opportunities, added Dr. Tan.
The three-day conference features panel discussions with experts and policymakers on trade, technology and education. This year’s theme is Meeting the Future Together: Opportunities and Challenges for the Indo-Pacific and Middle East.
Speaking earlier in the event, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean highlighted three areas of interaction between the Indo-Pacific and the Middle East – in economic partnerships, religious exchanges and interactions between people.
Asked about his assessment of the current level of people-to-people contacts, Mr Teo, who is also the Coordinating Minister for National Security, said it could be much better.
Both regions tend to see developed countries as models of growth and take lessons from, which means that such people-to-people connections tend to flow accordingly, he said.
But as the two regions accumulate experiences, they can share more with each other, whether in the areas of governance, education, or social models, he said.
“And with that added self-confidence and ability to discern for ourselves what types of relationships or development patterns we want, I think there would be greater opportunities for relationships between people.”
The Senior Minister was also asked what lessons can be learned from the experience of relative peace within Southeast Asia compared to the Middle East.
He said that despite the diversity of governance models and political systems in Asia, member states have been able to pursue co-operation and live in peace over the past three to four decades.
“What we have learned is that if we are together, we are more likely to be able to maintain peace and stability in our region,” he said.
“If we are divided, we are more likely to open the door to those changes being highlighted and made worse and possibly resulting in more disagreement and conflict in our region than would otherwise be necessary.”
He added that the Abrahamic Agreements – a series of agreements between Israel and Arab states to normalize diplomatic ties – present a chance for new dialogue and peace in the region.
“And if there is a desire, based on a sincere and genuine desire, to resolve disputes in an open and fair way … then I think there will be opportunities for these advances for a more peaceful future. “