17 August 2004

The War in Outsourcing

India is poised to be an outsourcing powerhouse in the next 2 years... in biotech.

1. I predict the end of Singapore once this happens. There's too much our leaders have invested in this industry, too much to lose once someone starts outsourcing biotech in a big way, the only way the Indians are capable of.

2. More importantly, this is a battle worthy of the Iron Chef. Whose vision of how to build an industry is superior? Whose biotech shall reign supreme?

On one hand, the mandarins in Singapore continue to insist the only way to build up an industry is to airlift several aging, over-the-hill 'experts' in the field to transplant in local soil. Throw them enough money and hopefully they can build Singapore into a biotech hub.

What can I say? It's a tried and tested approach? Substitute foreign 'biotech expert' for foreign 'sportsman' and you have Singapore's Olympic and football strategy. Substitute with foreign 'artist' and you have Singapore's arts policy. And so on...

On the other hand, we have the Indians, who believe that a strong industry can only be built from the bottom up, not from the top down. And with local labour too.

3. Much more interesting is the idea of sustainable development. Both Singapore and India's biotech industries are ultimately driven by foreign capitalists. These industries will produce goods that are relevant not for the local population or economy, but for the North American First World.

Contrast that with the recent biotech breakthrough: the DNA sequencing of the coffee plant in Brazil.

It's a classic question: Do we really want to produce millions of Rebok shoes that will be exported immediately, or use the same resources to produce goods that our people need to use?

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