01 October 2019

South-east Asia is a region burning bright

NO REGION in the world has been spared by the ongoing economic uncertainty, and South-east Asia is no exception.

First published in the Business Times on 1 October, 2019

But if there's one region that still holds plenty of business potential and expansion opportunities for both Singapore and global companies, South-east Asia would be it.

The countries that constitute the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - account for some 7 per cent of global exports, making it the fourth largest exporting region globally.

Supported by a young population, a burgeoning middle class and rapid urbanisation, Asean remains one of the fastest growing regions in the world with economic growth continuing to average 5.4 per cent, according to Asean's latest Investing in Asean report.

Within the region, business bright spots range across sectors such as automotive, financial services, construction and e-commerce. For instance, the Asian Development Bank has estimated that at least US$60 billion will need to be spent each year on both improvement and new infrastructure projects.

Countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are also on course to run digitalised economies by 2025, paving the way for more opportunities in e-commerce and financial services.

On Asean amid slowing growth

"I'm not a pessimist as it relates to Asean's ability to grow and develop and continue on a positive trajectory.

The reason for that is... that the nature of what Asean does has changed.

Asean isn't here to be the low-cost manufacturer for everyone else's consumption - Asean is the consumption market.

It is the direct consumption market; it is producing its own industries for itself. The idea that we're just an appendage to someone else's economy without any control over our own destiny is too overstated."

Alan Turner
Managing director and head of commercial banking, HSBC Singapore

"If we think about a recession, in most cases, even though there's a recession, there're more opportunities. It's true that recessions and uncertainty weigh on the companies' minds; when we talk to some of the corporate clients, they are thinking of how to consolidate their spaces more efficiently.

But that being said, what we see is that, because of all this co-sharing, co-working, and a bit more efficient use of spaces, companies are now in a better position to overcome a recession and grow from there even more."

Lee Nai Jia
Senior director and head of research, Knight Frank Singapore

Entering new markets

Where we speak to some of these startups coming to us looking for advice, we always say look, you've got to make sure that you have at least a three- to five-year plan.

If you are in Singapore and you think that your business can thrive in Singapore, you want to go very deep, that's fine.

But we all know that Singapore has its own constraints. Then the question is, do you go regional? Or do you want to go global? Because those steps take very different kinds of views going forward."

Limeng Lee
Chief strategy officer, Razer

"When you start out as a company, what is your aspiration?

If it is to be a global brand, then that value and attribute is what you would keep as you do your market entry, your value as a global brand.

Then as an execution, what are those things you can take locally?

Whether it's the last-mile fulfilment, or some of the operations, that, I would say, would be the difference between what you want to keep as a company to be consistent throughout your internationalisation strategy, and what you would do locally."

Lee Yee Fung
Director, Infocomm & Media (ICM) and Digitalisation, Enterprise Singapore

Left: Alan Turner And Right: Lee Nai Jia.


Left: Limeng Lee And Right: Lee Yee Fung

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