OPINION

KAMS countries are pushing aside BRICs

By Yu Kun-ha
  • Published : Feb 11, 2013 - 20:18
  • Updated : Feb 11, 2013 - 20:18
Acronyms often signal a cul de sac of communication. Acceptability of a proposition seems to increase once a clever acronym is created to define it.

One such dexterous acronym is BRIC ― standing for Brazil, Russia, India and China ― representing a proposition that these are emerging economies, the engine of the global growth, and the next fertile ground for market and investment opportunities, bar none.

That’s not a simple proposition. Its complication has different dimensions, each requiring fastidious scrutiny. Yet BRIC has been such a prevalent coined word that the fundamental premises behind it have become indisputable.

It surprised me the first time I heard of BRIC that it excluded Korea. Should it not be BRICK, no pun intended, particularly if opportunities are meant to be representative?

The argument thereafter was that BRIC meant for emerging economies and Korea was beyond that as a developed nation. I actually concur with that argument. Yet I always felt uneasy about packaging BRIC as the locomotive that pulls others for expansion of commerce worldwide, without considering Korea.

Emerging economies carry cache and baggage simultaneously. The economy of these countries grows with a high rate, albeit starting with a lower base as compared to the developed nations. That hints business opportunities, and demands attention and respect. But such opportunities also have a steep risk profile due to uncertainties in those economies.

That behooves searching for another set that balances growth, opportunities, risks, and global relevance differently. Risks can never be fully mitigated, and opportunities cannot be unbound. World deference has a political flavor that has much to do with the governance system and its competency. These considerations put an emphasis on the balance between the attributes when another packaging is sought to counter BRIC shortcomings.

Let’s look at Korea, Argentina, Mexico, and Singapore; the KAMS countries. The acronym is not meant to lead the discussion into another dead-end communication, but for broadening the discourse to include issues that matter.

The compelling case for KAMS is that these countries represent a better, if not the best, balance between economic opportunities and risks. They also provide a diversified set ― just consider Singapore versus Mexico ― that hedges the way businesses ought to consider turfs from the financial and trade perspectives.

Argentina, with its tortuous political past, continues to be a key component of the Western hemisphere, with Buenos Aires as the intellectual capital of Latin America. Democracy came late to Argentina, and its arrival sadly ushered in economic mismanagement that brought down this proud nation to such depth from which some thought it could never recover.

Resilience mixed with national certitude made Argentina rebound from its past economic malaise. Now all the ingredients are in place for taking the nation beyond the fragile state it was in and making it an indispensible part of global commerce. As testimony to that, Argentina is fast replacing India as the preferred offshore information-technology outsourcing spot due to quality, time-zone proximity, and cultural affinity it has with North America.

Mexico is being rediscovered as the preferred location for manufacturing. Its inclusion in the North America Free Trade Agreement has not lived to its full potential, specifically since the U.S. has had this unrestraint knack of sending manufacturing to China. That is being reevaluated in favor of Mexico, for good reasons, which will certainly spurt rapid economic growth.

Mexico is adopting Norway’s model of managing its natural resources, not the Russian model. The new indigenous private-equity and investment-banking community has been a stabilizing factor by ensuring the revenue stream for exporting natural resources is not plundered outside, and is not recklessly brought back without restraint, which causes inflation.

As Hong Kong increasingly becoming a platform for the government-backed capital companies and state-owned enterprises of China to invest offshore, Singapore has steadily gained as the focal point of Asia for financial services and the hub for capital to pass through. It has brought a new prestige to this tiny nation. Indications are that growth in Asia’s financial services will be fueled by Singapore.

Even though the land is premium in Singapore, high-technology companies, ranging from manufacturing to IT services, will have appetite to expand in this prime location.

And then there is Korea, the tiger of Asia. For a very long time Korea got a secondary look as the brightest economic zone in north Asia, in favor of its neighbors. But, smart money quietly deployed capital in the industrial and service sectors of Korea. They are now reaping the benefits of their intelligence.

One would be hard-pressed to find a better place than Korea for a steady long-term growth going forward. The security stability of the peninsula has been sited as a tangible risk, but this nation has masterfully shown aptitude for containing crisis after crisis without dragging the region into any major conflict. Now is the time to double-down on Korea.

Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” The proposition for BRIC has been put forth with such sureness that it is high-noon to say, “it just ain’t so,” in today’s linked and ever-changing world.

By Jahan Alamzad

Jahan Alamzad is managing principal of CA Advisors, a management consulting firm in San Carlos, California. ― Ed.