On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

G15 members still strangers to each other

By then, the Malaysian officials and businessmen had
decided to sing the national anthem themselves.

The fiasco did not end there. As the Prime Minister spoke, a computer graphic
of Indonesia with its red-and-white flag appeared as backdrop.

After eight summits of the Group of 15, there is no doubt that the South is
still very much strangers to each other.

The G15 comprises Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Argentina,
Brazil, Chile, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and
Sri Lanka.

Government officials and businessmen may know Malaysia intimately but many
ordinary Egyptians still had problems pin-pointing our geographical location.
This, despite the fact that there are over 3,500 Malaysian students in Egypt,
mostly at the Al Azhar University in Cairo.

The Egyptian man-in-the-street who is aware of Malaysia is often surprised when
told that it has a multi-racial and multi-religious society.

For some Egyptians, the only contact they have of Malaysia are the students at
Al Azhar.

“You mean you have Buddhists and Christians in Malaysia?'' an Egyptian taxi
driver asked.

Taxi drivers may not be the best indicator of Egyptian perception but they are
the first contact for visitors.

In Khartoum, at the Chinese-built Friendship Hall, Chinese songs were played as
background music during the banquent for Dr Mahathir.

“We thought Malaysians would be more familiar with Chinese tunes. China is
near to Malaysia, after all. It's the closest thing we have on Asia,'' a
Sudanese official explained.

The next evening, during a dinner hosted by Sudanese businessmen for Dr
Mahathir at the same venue, seven Sudanese musicians entertained the crowd by
playing the pipa, guzheng and other instruments.

Welcome President Mahathir, some of the billboards in downtown Khartoum
errorneously read.

But no one can fault the Sudanese for not doing their best. They rolled out the
red carpet, and their hospitality was the best ever, agreed Malaysian officials
and journalists who often travelled with Dr Mahathir on overseas trips.

Protocol officers waited at Khartoum airport for the Malaysian journalists who
arrived at 4am, and ushered them to the VIP lounge where hot coffee was served
as their passports were stamped.

The incidents in Egypt and Sudan reinforce further the need for South-South
cooperation. Developing countries still have little knowledge of their
potential and how much they can gain from each other.

Many continue to rely on traditional trading partners  mostly in the West.

In 1995, 10 member countries of the G15 were among the top 50 leading exporters
and importers in world mechanise trade.

Collectively, member countries accounted for US$365.3bil or 10% of world
mechanise exports and US$372.6bil of imports.

G15 trade with the rest of the world has also showed strong growth. Between
1990 and 1995, exports grew by 68% which was 15% more than the world average,
according to a report.

Yet, trade exchange between member countries stood at 9% in 1990  a shocking fact which many G15 members did
not realise until revealed.

The problem is that developing countries are often perceived as suppliers of
raw materials to industrialised nations.

It is a myth which many developing countries themselves have accepted, mostly
due to ignorance, lack of information and bad publicity by Western news
agencies, which newspapers in the South rely on for international news.

So, it is an eye-opener for most businessmen from G15 nations whenever the parallel
business forum and exhibition are held.

Contacts are made, networking forged and deals are sealed. As many of these
businessmen travel to G15 meetings with their heads of government, their
credibility is strengthened.

The Malaysian-initiated bilateral payments arrangements with central banks
ensuring a proper system of payment between businessmen has seen trade

For Malaysia, trade with Latin American countries, for example, has increased
by 300%.

Many Egyptians and Sudanese are beginning to realise that besides palm oil,
Malaysia manufactures electronic goods.

The market is vast when we take into account the fact that G15 countries make
up 30% of the world's population.

In Cairo, Dr Mahathir opened the showroom for Perodua, which has been selling
like hot cakes  the first shipment was
sold out within a week.

While in a taxi in Cairo, the driver showed me three faded photographs taken in

“See this? My girlfriend. Very pretty, ah? London very nice,'' he said, and
then switched countries.

“I know Malaysia. Very nice people. Very good. Tell me, where is Malaysia?
North, south, east, west? What countries next to Malaysia?''