An investment promotion tour that finished yesterday underscored the government of Singapore's desire to boost trade with the UAE, particularly between the technology sectors of the two countries. Members of Singapore's Infocomms Development Authority (IDA) met with business and government leaders in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, while executives from the city-state's fast-growing technology sector conducted parallel meetings with their UAE peers.
"Our two countries have similar aspirations and directions," said Shaik Umar, the director of the IDA's centre in the Middle East. "We both want to be the best and are always trying to outdo each other, which is a good thing. It makes us both move faster." Singapore's development into a prosperous modern economy is often seen as prefiguring the "Dubai model" that has swept through the Gulf. By opening to large-scale foreign investment and economic migration, the country experienced an economic boom that continues to this day.
Singapore is now a popular location for back offices and regional headquarters, with an expatriate-friendly lifestyle and tax regime. The country's future growth is closely linked to the development of knowledge industries such as IT. In January, a free-trade deal between Singapore and the GCC was agreed upon in principle at a ministerial meeting. The pact is undergoing legal ratification and should come into effect within months.
Mr Umar said he believes the agreement will lead to increased trade between the two nations."Both countries are open economies, so there are few impediments," he said. There are already examples of the two countries working together. Singapore's national telecommunications company, SingTel, is one of the world's largest,, with operations in India, Australia and Indonesia. It partners with the Abu Dhabi Group, a company owned by members of Abu Dhabi's ruling family, in ownership of the Pakistani mobile operator Warid Telecom.
In reaching out to the UAE, Singapore hopes to utilise its experience in overcoming many of the challenges that the local Government and private sector are facing: managing rapid growth, fostering entrepreneurship in a government-led economy and turning protected national businesses into internationally competitive players. The small island nation is continually rated as one of the best places in the world to do business. The World Bank's Doing Business report last year ranked the country first in the world for ease of doing business, while the World Economic Forum placed the country at number seven in its Global Competitiveness Index. The UAE ranked 68th and 37th respectively in the two studies.
Singapore's growth, much like that of the UAE, was driven by an active, interventionist government that played a dominant role in the local economy. Its long-term focus on creating state-of-the-art technology infrastructure helped the nation become one of the world's most competitive. "Having this kind of ambitious government stimulate demand for IT services helped develop the sector," said Stephen Chung, a manager at Crimson Logic, an IT company based in Singapore. After working on major e-government projects in Singapore that helped digitise the state's administrative processes and services, the company won a five-year contract with the UAE Ministry of Justice.
"The key thing that our government did was create a lot of opportunities," said Mr Chung. "It has been pushing technology investment in sectors like government, education and health care, and all of this creates supply from local and foreign companies. It develops niche markets, which helps a diverse group of technology businesses thrive." Mr Chung said Crimson Logic was eyeing a number of new UAE contracts. "There are a lot of opportunities in the UAE, given the number of government initiatives being launched," he said. "Look at the Abu Dhabi policy agenda, the federal e-government plan, Dubai's plan for 2015. These will all definitely translate into a lot of demand."