x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The View from Here: Turnabout fair play as Asia discovers outsourcing

The cumulative demand for oil, goods and services from the Middle East will continue to provide employment for many of us.

A couple of weeks ago, a firm in Hong Kong asked me to do some work for them. The reason, as I understand it, had nothing to do with my formidable skill set; it was because I am cheap.

Instead of hiring someone closer to home, who would demand a Hong Kong salary, they opted to recruit me on an ad hoc basis to work remotely. I reckon they save at least 35 per cent in wage costs by doing so. Sound familiar?

Average income levels in Asia have been converging towards that of the US for a long time. In 1970, the average income in Singapore and Hong Kong was a quarter of that of the US. Today, on average, Singaporeans earn as much as they would in the US. And by 2020, their incomes will be 25 per cent higher than those of their American counterparts.

That Asia's star is rising as the US and Europe sink below a horizon of empty office buildings is not in doubt. Consumption, a good measure of economic vitality, has grown only 1 per cent in the world's major economies since 2008. In Asia, it has expanded by 25 per cent.

This is not to suggest Asia is about to embrace full-scale outsourcing. But it's good to know that in the world's most heavily populated region, things are going quite nicely, thank you very much. The GDPs of many of Asia's major economies are still in double-digit territory: 18 per cent in Singapore and Indonesia, 14 per cent in the Philippines, 10 per cent in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Thailand, 8.5 per cent in India and 9.5 per cent in China.

And for those drawing paycheques signed in Abu Dhabi, there's good news on the energy front, too. Oil demand has consistently fallen in the West since 2001. But in Asia, it has risen 40 per cent over the same period and some analysts expect the region to count for almost 80 per cent of new demand by 2020.

Most encouraging, though, is that the Asian middle class is also on a charge. It's expected to provide eight out of 10 new middle-class households over the next 10 years.

For wage earners anywhere, it's a good thing that Asia is beginning to assert itself on the world stage. As it does so, skills that have become redundant in the West will be in demand in the East.

As expatriates, we strive to be professional and give our employers value for money. But we are also aware that our time in the host country is limited.

Most of us do, after all, plan to retire back home, eventually. In the meantime, we have to earn a living and this makes us kind of gypsies - with one eye on the door should another opportunity come along.

The Middle East has been good to all of us and, by extension, so has Asia. The cumulative demand for oil, goods and services from the entire region will continue to provide employment for many of us. And it will be of mutual benefit. China owes much of its newfound success to the enclave of Hong Kong, a hotbed of entrepreneurship.

The skills transfer and access to capital from Hong Kong to China is now widely acknowledged.

In a way, Asia's opportunity is our opportunity. So we might occasionally feel a pang of whimsy as China, India and the region surge past the wheezing old man the West seems to have become. But I, for one, will be happy to cash in my paycheque and be grateful that there are people out there who will pay me a decent wage for an honest day's living.

Gavin du Venage is a business writer and entrepreneur based in South Africa.