A Pivotal Year for ASEAN?
2020-01-09 22:59

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The role of Asian markets in the global economy has grown significantly in recent years, and we expect this trend to continue in the future. Many of these countries have also made fundamental improvements to their economies, and we think these changes are here to stay. This year could prove a pivotal one for a number of countries in Asia, as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had set ambitious plans for a new ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) to come to fruition in 2015. Discussions among ASEAN members in preparation for the AEC are still ongoing and while the fine points are still being worked out, we are enthusiastic to see the outcome.


Founded in 1967 to foster regional cooperation and promote peace, ASEAN is a strong regional economy made up of 10 members: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR (Laos), Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The 10 individual ASEAN members already have attractive characteristics for investors, including favorable demographic profiles, abundant natural resources and low-cost labor, among other factors. Combined into a single market, they encompass a population in excess of 600 million and a wide range of economic attributes from the financial, trading and technology skills available in Singapore to the largely untapped reserves of labor and natural resources in Myanmar that, when combined, could well represent far more than the sum of their parts. The AEC was envisaged to have the following key characteristics: (a) a single market and production base, (b) a highly competitive economic region, (c) a region of equitable economic development and (d) a region fully integrated into the global economy.1

东盟成立于1967年,旨在推动地区合作与促进和平,是由10个成员国组成的强大地区经济体:文莱、柬埔寨、印尼、老挝、马来西亚、缅甸、菲律宾、新加坡、泰国和越南。东盟每一个成员国中每一个本身对投资者而言都颇具吸引力,包括有利的人口状况、丰富的自然资源和低成本劳动力等因素。组成单一市场后,他们将涵盖超过6亿人口以及一系列经济属性,从新加坡成熟的金融、贸易和技术,到缅甸大部分尚未开发的劳动力和自然资源,一旦合并,将大大超过单体的总和。设想中的东盟经济共同体具有以下主要特点:(a) 单一市场和生产基础,(b) 极具竞争力的经济区域,(c) 具有平等经济发展的地区,以及(d) 完全融入全球经济的地区。 

Because ASEAN countries have to work toward a collective vision and cooperative spirit when AEC fully comes together, we think it should strengthen their partnership, even though there has been some outlying resistance and concerns about some aspects. If it is fully implemented later this year, the AEC represents an opportunity to further promote cross-border trade and connect economies, companies and people within the region in the years to come. According to a recent study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, businesses in the region are remarkably bullish about the AEC: 80% of those surveyed regarded the AEC as a business opportunity for their firm and believed it would help accelerate growth in their respective industries.2 Business executives also acknowledged that progress has been made over the years in most sectors, and two-thirds of the companies responding to the survey said they were adjusting their product offerings and upgrading their organizations and supply chains. However, some business executives in ASEAN also expressed concern that governments would not wholeheartedly facilitate the free flow of goods across the region.

由于东盟国家必须朝着共同的愿景和合作精神迈进,当东盟经济共同体组建完成时,我们认为它可以增强这些国家之前的合作关系,即使在某些方面存在一些无关紧要的阻碍和担忧。如果在今年晚些时候充分实施,东盟经济共同体将成为未来数年内在该地区进一步推进跨境贸易,以及将各个经济体、企业和民众联系在一起的一个宝贵机会。波士顿咨询集团(Boston Consulting Group)最近的一次研究显示,该地区的企业非常看好东盟经济共同体:80%的受访者将东盟经济共同体视为他们公司的一次商业机遇,并相信将帮助加快在各自行业的增长。 企业高管还确认,过去几年多数行业已经取得进步,同时在回答调查的企业中,有三分之二表示正在调整产品供应,并升级他们的组织结构和供应链。但是,东盟一些企业的高管也表达出政府可能不会全心全意推进商品在整个地区自由流动的担忧。

In our view, the enviable location of the proposed AEC, bordering the fast-growing economic giants of India and China, could be a major potential benefit for companies within ASEAN as well as investors. The region lies on one of the “one belt, one road” trade routes identified by the Chinese government as significant focuses for investment. Chinese firms are already active investors in countries such as Vietnam, taking advantage of significantly lower wage rates in comparison with Southern China, and ambitious plans for transport infrastructure improving China's links with Southeast Asia are under development. International trade could become a further stimulus to growth for Southeast Asia, with some of the countries of the region closely involved in major free trade initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, currently under negotiation, while also looking to deepen intra-regional trade links. ASEAN has seen continuing population growth over the last 15 years, totaling 620 million people in 2014 and expected to increase further to close to 670 million by 2020, a growth of about 30% from the 514 million in 2000.3 We believe this growth potential, combined with increasing per capita incomes and relatively younger population structures, could further drive the growing consumer demand in the region as a reduction in the cost of doing business, improved labor and capital movement and the streamlining of taxation can only increase the opportunity for growth. As a result, ASEAN economies are increasing domestic consumption of a wide range of goods and services.

我们认为,提议的东盟经济共同体/位置极佳,紧邻经济快速腾飞的印度和中国,可能成为东盟内部企业和投资者的一个主要潜在利好。该地区位于中国政府设定的重点投资的“一带一路”贸易线路上。中国企业已经成为越南等国的活跃投资者,利用相对于华南地区低得多的工资水平,同时通过交通基础设施的提升中国与东南亚联系的宏伟计划也在制定之中。国际贸易可能成为进一步刺激东南亚增长的因素,该地区一些国家正密切参与一些重要的自由贸易倡议,如目前正在谈判中的泛太平洋伙伴关系协定(Trans-Pacific Partnership),同时还计划深化区域内贸易联系。东盟人口已持续增长超过15年,2014年总人口为6.2亿,并且预计到2020年将增至接近6.7亿,相对于2000年的5.14亿增长约30%。 我们认为这种增长潜力,加上不断增长的人均收入以及相对年轻的人口结构,可能进一步推动区内不断增长的消费需求,因为商业成本降低、劳动力提高以及资本流动和税收优化,只会增加增长机遇。因此,东盟经济体正在促进各种商品和服务的国内消费。

According to various forecasts, the prospects for gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the region going forward are far stronger than in developed markets, and in excess even of other emerging-market regions. GDP growth in emerging Asia is expected to average 6.6% in 2015, while frontier markets such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos are forecasted to grow even faster.4 At the other end of the spectrum, Brunei is expected to contract by 0.5%, while Thailand and Singapore are expected to expand by a still-reasonable 3.7% and 3%, respectively.5

根据各个不同的预测,该地区未来的国内生产总值(GDP)增长前景远远超过发达市场,甚至将超过其它新兴市场地区。2015年新兴亚洲地区的GDP增长预计为平均6.6%,而前沿市场(frontier market)如缅甸、柬埔寨和老挝,预计增速甚至更快。 而在另一端,文莱预计将萎缩0.5%,泰国和新加坡预计仍将分别保持3.7%和3%的合理增速。


A Range of Diverse Opportunities


In our view, Southeast Asia is currently among the most exciting investment destinations available to emerging and frontier market investors. The range of opportunities available to investors is remarkable, from the highly developed and technologically sophisticated Singapore market through emerging markets in various stages of development such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines to exciting frontier prospects such as Vietnam and Myanmar. Indonesia is in the midst of a significant reform program initiated by President Widodo, while Thailand's military government is looking to shore up support through growth-oriented activities. In our view, Singapore's role as a global trading hub should permit continued growth and prosperity for that market. Myanmar's opening to market forces could receive a significant boost should scheduled elections pass off successfully, while Vietnam is also engaged in a cautious opening to global investors and gradual reform of its banking sector.


Laos has the potential to join compelling frontier stock markets as demand for its hydropower and mineral resources boosts economic growth. We believe economic reform proposals under way elsewhere in the region also have the potential to boost economic growth and corporate profitability. With its excellent international trade links and the availability both of sophisticated technology and low-cost labor, Southeast Asia has long been an important center for the supply-chain activities of Japanese companies, while labor cost advantages have seen much basic manufacturing activity migrating from China. There are still some challenges for ASEAN countries ahead; naturally, when you have a divergence of countries, there are going to be differences of opinion but collective cooperation is needed to make the AEC successful.


We would also like to see continued progress in removing barriers to the global flows of goods and services in the region, and policies that encourage foreign investment. In order for AEC to gain credibility and develop as envisioned, we believe various obstacles need to be addressed, including differences in regulations and policies, bureaucratic pressures, and perhaps a perception or concern among some business owners about whether ASEAN can be an open market. AEC, if successfully implemented, will represent a common market with a combined GDP of nearly US$2 trillion. We believe the fact that all ASEAN countries will ultimately have to work toward a collective vision and cooperative spirit when AEC comes together should strengthen their partnership and, hopefully, improve the lives of the people. We think the future for the region remains positive, supported by several factors including solid growth prospects, strong labor and natural resources, favorable demographics, advantageous trade links and geographical positioning, as well as watershed initiatives for reform.


Comments, opinions and analyses are for informational purposes only and should not be considered individual investment advice or recommendations to invest in any security or to adopt any investment strategy. Because market and economic conditions are subject to rapid change, comments, opinions and analyses are rendered as of the date of the posting and may change without notice. The material is not intended as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any country, region, market, industry, investment or strategy.


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All investments involve risks, including the possible loss of principal. Investments in foreign securities involve special risks including currency fluctuations, economic instability and political developments. Investments in emerging markets, of which frontier markets are a subset, involve heightened risks related to the same factors, in addition to those associated with these markets' smaller size, lesser liquidity and lack of established legal, political, business and social frameworks to support securities markets. Because these frameworks are typically even less developed in frontier markets, as well as various factors including the increased potential for extreme price volatility, illiquidity, trade barriers and exchange controls, the risks associated with emerging markets are magnified in frontier markets. Stock prices fluctuate, sometimes rapidly and dramatically, due to factors affecting individual companies, particular industries or sectors, or general market conditions.


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The technology industry can be significantly affected by obsolescence of existing technology, short product cycles, falling prices and profits, competition from new market entrants as well as general economic conditions. The technology sector has historically been volatile due to the rapid pace of product change and development within the sector.


1. Source: ASEAN Economic Community Factbook. Jakarta: ASEAN Secretariat, February 2011.


2. Source: Boston Consulting Group: “Winning in ASEAN, How Companies are Preparing for Economic Integration,” October 2014.

[2]资料来源:波士顿咨询集团:“ 赢得东盟,企业如何为经济一体化做准备 ”,2014年10月。

3. Source: International Monetary Fund. There is no assurance any forecast will be realized.


4. Source: IMF World Economic Outlook Database, April 2015. There is no assurance any forecast will be realized.


5. Source: Ibid.


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