One organisation that has been set up to take the full advantage of the position of Singapore in the heart of Africa is the Africa-South East Asia Chamber of Commerce (ASEACC).
Southeast Asian countries form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the third economic growth power in the emerging Asia, next to China and India. It has a population of over 670m and a GDP estimated at $2.3 trillion and growing at around 5.5% per annum.
Africa, with its own GDP projected to reach $2.6 trillion by 2020, a rapidly growing middle class and with its wealth of natural resources and agricultural potential, offers enormous scope for mutually beneficial partnerships between itself and ASEAN.
It was with this in mind that Paulo Gomes, a businessman from Guinea-Bissau, co-organised the first Africa-South East Asia Business Forum in Singapore in 2010. The forum was very successful and it became obvious that a more permanent structure was required to help build partnerships between the two regions. Another conference was held a year later in Kuala Lumpur and again it was clear that there were several areas that were ripe for partnerships between companies from the two regions.
This led to the foundation of the Africa-South East Asia Chamber of Commerce which was officially launched in November 2013, with Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development, Lee Yi Shyan, in attendance.
The Chamber was formed by a group of 13 companies from both the African and Southeast Asia regions. Members include Hyflux, PIL, one of the world’s largest shipping lines with a very strong presence in Africa, Ecobank, and food giants Wilmar and Olam.
“The Chamber is selective in terms of membership,” says treasurer Kelvin Tan. “We believe Africa should move away from the current formula of providing natural resources in exchange for infrastructure and instead add value and create an environment for business champions to accelerate regional integration. Joint ventures will create such champions who can spread their wings and bring growth and prosperity to their respective regions.”
Interestingly, Hyflux International, a subsidiary of Singapore’s Hyflux water company, signed an agreement with Tolaram to explore opportunities for the development of a membrane-based water treatment plant in Nigeria. Hyflux is already working in Algeria (See box).
The co-founder and chairman of the Chamber’s advisory board, Paulo Gomes, had a solid pedigree in both the public and private sectors.
He served as the planning director and principal advisor to the Minister of Finance in Guinea-Bissau, was executive director for 25 African countries at the World Bank and on the board of directors of the West Africa Development Bank.
Within the private sector, he served on the board of Ecobank and currently sits on the boards of Asky Airlines and AFIG private equity fund. He is the founder of Constelor Investment Holdings, based in Dakar with offices in Accra. It provides strategic advice to companies including Mars, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto as well as to countries such as Gabon, Angola and Equatorial Guinea on issues of mining.
Gomes entered the 2014 Presidential elections in Guinea-Bissau as an independent candidate and came third among 13 candidates.