Playing the SIM Card

Daily News Egypt
4 Min Read

SINGAPORE: Only two weeks after European Union leaders cobbled together a backroom deal for Greece, the stitches are coming undone and the southernmost member of the EU is back in the firing line.

What the 27 member bloc is lacking in transparency is being counterbalanced by the 10 member ASEAN. It has fewer members but the Southeast Asian group is a market of 600 million consumers.

The view from my hotel room in Singapore is all about business. The port is active again. After a steep decline in exports this time last year, 2010 is looking promising.

Construction on a few giants casino-entertainment centers is booming. Macau will have a new and fierce competitor.

The 21st century economy as we have learned via terms like BRIC are not being defined by large regional trade blocs, but by clusters that share a common DNA for growth.

In this spirit, I will pull out the SIM card, not for my mobile phone but to connect Singapore-Indonesia-Malaysia. Their common economic DNA: 2010 average growth of between 5-7 percent and they look to China as an export opportunity, not a threat.

Malaysia s Prime Minister Najib Razak in a speech to foreign correspondents in Singapore talked of open regionalism and the new triangle of trade between Southeast Asia, the Middle East and China. After a recent tour of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and India, he will receive the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in May.

Middle East leaders have a natural affinity for the largest Muslim market in the world, Indonesia and the largest Islamic finance market, Malaysia.

SIM countries also share a common challenge with their Gulf counterparts. They are middle income states. Their populations are enjoying the fruits of export growth and oil and gas revenues, but their leaders need to keep moving them up the value chain. Abu Dhabi has invested in high technology with the hope of a wealth transfer as well.

Singapore has been a high tech engine for two decades. Indonesia and Malaysia are busy forging new joint ventures in the Middle East and Africa for their palm oil and oil and gas companies. As Prime Minister Razak told journalists, implementation is the next course of action.

After ASEAN leaders finished their summit in Vietnam, they talked about making the bloc more relevant to their companies and people. They want to be pro-active in broadening ties with China and Japan. The East-East corridor of trade seems to hold more promise than the EU right now.

And if one needed to place a bet on the economic clusters of the future beyond BRIC? I would pull out the SIM card and place it on the table.

John Defterios is CNN’s anchor for Marketplace Middle East. Tune in Fridays at 11:15 and Saturdays at 9:15. For more information go to

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