Introduction

ASEAN is the most exciting and high growth investment destination in today’s world. By virtue of its large population and rapidly growing economy, ASEAN, as a collective of 10 countries, is considered a juggernaut on the global economic playing field.

 

With trade routes that carry billions of dollars’ worth of goods and a workforce that is young, digitally savvy and increasingly literate, ASEAN has positioned itself as a magnet of Foreign Direct Investment.

 

The whole world is coming to ASEAN to invest for the future. Why aren’t you?

Political background

 

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was created on 8th August 1967 originally with 5 member countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Together they created a platform for regional peace and stability with the objective of promoting economic growth, social progress, cultural development and collaboration to raise the living standards of the people. Since then, 5 other countries have joined ASEAN: Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.

 

These 10 Companies have together created an economic powerhouse, which is being acknowledged today as a high potential growth zone for international companies.

 

The ASEAN secretariat is housed in Jakarta, Indonesia and many countries today (including USA, China, India, etc) have ASEAN Ambassadors representing them in trade and business forums.

ASEAN the beneficiary of global economic trends

 

Over the last 20 years, we have seen a gradual but clear shift in global investment and trade flows from West to East, as companies search for lower production cost, larger markets to distribute their products and increased returns on investment. This is producing an increase in employment and salaries in Asia, helping GDP per capita to improve and leading to greater consumption in emerging markets.

 

China has been the first mover in this space. It has converted itself in the last couple of decades into the world’s factory. However, in the last few years other countries in Asia are beginning to reap the benefit as well.

In the past, the shift from West to East primarily revolved around manufacturing and cheaper production costs. The teams responsible for high-end research, strategy and innovation continued to be based in the West. This is changing now and companies are beginning to look at Asia for reasons apart from just lower cost production facilities.

 

The large Asian middle class represents a huge market for many companies. Additionally, the large pool of university graduates and increasingly sophisticated research facilities are helping to create centres for innovation, customer strategies, design and a host of other disciplines.

 

There are impediments to this globalization. In some countries like the USA, nationalism has taken the front seat. The “America First” kind of approach,is being replicated by populists in other countries as well. And more recently, Covid-19 has caused havoc in the established order of things.

Post Covid scenario

 

However, when the world recovers from Covid-19, we expect that the global trend of investment and wealth transfer from West to East will resume. Many companies will fail during Covid-19, and for those who survive, there will be increased pressure to generate more revenue at lower cost. This can only be realized if companies are allowed to produce and manufacture in cost effective surroundings, and are able to sell value added products in markets where they can achieve scale and appropriate pricing.

 

Post Covid-19, China is likely to face some pressure as the world’s default manufacturing base, as companies want to diversify their production bases and to mitigate the risk of concentrating their dependency to any one country. Political factors are also relevant here. Many companies have been talking about moving part of their manufacturing out of China. The beneficiaries of such a trend are likely to be other countries in Asia, and in particular ASEAN. The region has made great strides as a political and economic bloc in recent times.

 

Economists are now sitting up and taking notice of ASEAN, calling it the most exciting trading bloc in the world today. Individual countries within ASEAN like Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia etc. are amongst the highest potential countries in the world today. By combining their collective efforts and influence, ASEAN member states have been able to help shape Indo-Pacific economic, political, security trends and discussions.

Key facts

 

With 650 million people, ASEAN has the world’s 3rd largest population and a GDP of US$ 3 trillion. ASEAN is currently the 3rd largest economic bloc in the Indo-Pacific region and the 5th largest in the world – after US, China, Japan, Germany and EU.

 

ASEAN was the 3rd fastest growing major Indo-Pacific economy in the past decade, after China and India. As a critical hub for global trade, over US$ 3.4 trillion worth of goods transit through the ASEAN region each year.

 

Aggregate growth rate of ASEAN (around 5% over last 10 years) is the highest of any trading block in the world. With a projected annual growth rate of over 5.5% per year, ASEAN is expected to overtake the EU and Japan to become the 4th largest economy in the world by 2030.

 

In the next 5 years, the increase in global output from ASEAN will be similar to the Eurozone. Individual countries in ASEAN like Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Myanmar etc. are considered to be the amongst most exciting investment destinations in the world.

 

ASEAN population is expected to grow to 800 million by 2050. 380 million people living in ASEAN countries presently are under the age of 35 years – 58% of the total population of 650 million. ASEAN has the world’s 3rd largest labour force, trailing only China and India.

 

ASEAN’s middle class is expected to more than double in size from 135 million (24% of ASEAN’s population) to 334 million (51% of the population) by 2030.

ASEAN opportunities – trade and investment

 

ASEAN attracted 12% of the global FDI flows more than China – with over US$ 150 billion inflows. The EU, Japan, China and US were the biggest sources of investment.

 

220 large companies are headquartered in ASEAN Many corporate giants have set up manufacturing sites in ASEAN, and even more are investing in this space. Apple, Samsung, GE, BASF, Siemens and many others are moving manufacturing bases to ASEAN.

 

ASEAN countries are signing FTA agreements with the EU and USA. The recent FTA between Vietnam and the EU was characterized as “the most ambitious FTA the EU has ever concluded with a developing country.”

 

ADB estimates that the ASEAN countries need to invest US$ 210 billion per year in infrastructure over the next decade to maintain growth rate, reduce poverty and respond to climate change.

 

ASEAN region has over US$ 2 trillion worth of investment opportunities in the infrastructure sector.

ASEAN opportunities – e-business and digital

 

GDP per capita in ASEAN is expected to increase from US$ 4,300 in 2017 to US$ 11,000 by 2030, which presents a huge consuming class for western companies.

 

With 914 million active mobile connections, almost 1.5 times its population, ASEAN is the world’s fastest-growing internet market. More than 50% of the ASEAN population is less than 30 years old, and almost 35% is below the age of 19. This generation of young, tech savvy consumers are open to buying new things and new trends, preferably online or via the mobile phone.

 

6 ASEAN countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Philippines) have over 270 million internet users, 100 million more than in 2015. The value of e-commerce in these 6 markets grew from US$ 32 million in 2015 to US$ 100 billion in 2019 and is further expected to grow to US$ 300 billion by 2025

Summary

 

ASEAN represents one of the most exciting investment opportunities in the world today and likely to remain so for the next 50 years.

 

Many international companies have invested heavily in China in the past and have been very successful. The shift to China wave appears to be losing strength, and while investment will continue to grow in China, many companies will be looking to evaluate investment in China alternatives, or China plus One. The US China trade war, and the Covid-19 pandemic, makes the case even more strongly for companies to look at alternatives to China for investment and growth in the future.

 

ASEAN with its mix of fast moving, high potential and dynamic countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Myanmar etc. apart from more established nations like Singapore and Malaysia, offers a unique mix of economies to invest in.

 

The top companies in the world are either here, or planning an entry. When will you come?”

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