Singapore’s economy is often used as a prime example of how business-friendly policies can jumpstart a country’s growth. Most of our readers are probably familiar with Singapore’s transformation from a malarial swamp to one of the richest nations on the planet.

The city’s startling development over the past few decades is leading some investors to search for “the next Singapore”.

Why not invest in Singapore itself? Quite simply, the opportunities have come and gone.

It’s much harder to invest in Singapore than it once was. They have enough money now and don’t need yours. Incentives and options for investors are minimal unless you’re bringing in millions of dollars.

Plus, why invest in places which have already gone through their phase of rapid growth? Profit isn’t made by investing in markets which were at their strongest 20 years ago.

With all that said, we’ll put forth several countries which could become the next Singapore. Places like Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates won’t be considered for the purposes of this article. They’re already as successful as Singapore in their own right. We’re just looking at emerging economies here.

 

The Next Singapore Must…

Before seeing our contenders for the next Singapore, it’s worth looking at some characteristics which made the city-state a success in the first place.

Perhaps the most important factor is having an efficient system of government. It doesn’t necessarily need to be free (Singapore ranks low in press freedom, for example). Just able to focus on economic growth and the well-being of its citizens.

Singapore, while not quite a fully-functioning democracy, is able to make important decisions quickly. In fact, some would argue that the city state’s lack of competition between political parties makes its government more flexible and efficient.

The next Singapore must be dynamic and transparent, but not necessarily democratic.

Secondly, any contender must have a strategic location. A country can’t change its position on the map. But being landlocked and having no access to the sea, for example, is something which holds back places like Mongolia and Laos.

Singapore straddles the Strait of Malacca,  a shipping lane of vital importance, for its part. More than 80% of China’s oil imports pass through the strait on their way from the Middle East. This has helped make the Port of Singapore the second busiest in the world.

Lastly, the next Singapore must be open and attractive to foreign investors. A nation simply can’t thrive with protectionist policies in place.

 

Malaysia

Singapore’s neighbor to the north is perhaps the most obvious choice. The two countries share many similarities, and Singapore was even part of Malaysia up until 1965.

In terms of economic development, the city state left Malaysia in the dust since then. But both share some of the same advantages.

One of them is geographic location. Malaysia borders almost the entire Strait of Malacca. It has the same potential to become a hub for shipping and trade.

Malaysia is also very welcoming to foreign investors. For example, it’s one of very few countries where foreigners can buy land in Asia.

The main things holding back Malaysia are corruption and inefficiency in government. Even the highest levels are plagued by it. Also, the various ethic and religious groups get along far worse compared to Singapore. “Bumiputra first” policies cause resentment among Chinese and Indian minorities.

 

Cambodia

Okay, let’s be honest: Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia. It’s very far from being “the next Singapore” at its current stage of development.

With that said, high growth rates and a government friendly toward foreign investors bodes well for the nation.

Cambodia’s growth rate is predicted to exceed 7% for the foreseeable future. This will help make up for lost ground. Furthermore, starting a business and buying property in Cambodia is easy as a foreigner.

Not only that, but China seems intent on supporting Cambodia’s economic growth. The two nations are very close allies.

The unspoken arrangement is that Cambodia protects China’s political interests in Southeast Asia. In return, China helps Cambodia with financing for roads, bridges, buses, and more.

China’s GDP is roughly 560 times larger than Cambodia’s. As such, Cambodia could become a developed country from its much larger neighbor’s support alone.

Easy access to sea and land trade routes, along with a robust tourism sector, are just icing on the cake.

Corruption is a major problem in Cambodia, but they’ve made steady progress toward combating it. Everyone has to start somewhere.

 

Georgia

Yes, you read that right. But I’m talking about the Republic of Georgia, a country in West Asia bordering Russia and Turkey. Not the US state.

It’s possible that you haven’t even heard of Georgia. You almost certainly haven’t considered investing there. But the nation’s obscurity is one of its strong points.

Georgia’s government is highly efficient and banks are easy to work with. Businesses can be incorporated be in less than a day. Foreign investors, whether they want to buy real estate or start a company, face almost no restrictions.

Many of these things are reflected in Georgia’s ranking in the World Bank’s latest Ease of Doing Business Index. It came in at 16th out of 190 countries.

A large port under construction, along with several oil pipelines running through Turkey and into the EU, will help bolster the Georgian economy even more.

What’s Georgia’s weak point? The South Caucasus has historically been a region of instability. Russia even invaded a small part of Georgia back in 2008. But few people think it will happen again.

Vladimir Putin, practical as he is, would have nothing to gain from starting a war with Georgia. He was only targeting a Russian-speaking area of Georgia in 2008. Doing anything more would be pointless at best and political suicide at worst.

 

Panama

Moving off the Eurasian landmass, Panama’s excellent geographic position links the two American continents together. In fact, the Central American nation is most famous for its location – and specifically its canal.

Without the Panama Canal, cargo ships would need to go all the way around the bottom of South America to get to the other side. The canal is able to shave two weeks off a ship’s travel time, extracting billions worth of annual revenue in the process.

Panama is the only place on this list which has actively worked toward a stated goal of becoming the next Singapore. The past two Presidents of Panama made state visits to Singapore in order to learn from their success.

However, while Panama is efficient by Latin American standards, it’s a bureaucratic mess compared to Singapore. Running a business and dealing with the government can be a pain. A flat corporate tax rate of 25% is too high to compete with others on this list.

Corruption in Panama is also a major issue. The last President, Ricardo Martinelli, even had an arrest warrant out for him by Interpol and is now in US custody.

Not only that, but the nation’s status as an offshore banking hub was ruined by the release of the Panama Papers in 2015.

Can Panama fight corruption, lower taxes, improve efficiency, and revive the reputation of its banking sector? Time will tell.

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About Reid Kirchenbauer

Reid Kirchenbauer is the Founder of InvestAsian. He's experienced with trading stocks and buying property in Thailand, Cambodia, and elsewhere. He's been featured in publications such as Forbes, Nomad Capitalist, Property Report, and Seeking Alpha. Download his free investment guide by clicking here.

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