Overview of business in Southeast Asia

Overview of business in Southeast Asia

Located to the South of China and Taiwan, the East of India and Bangladesh, North of Australia and West of Papua New Guinea, Southeast Asia is a tropical sub-continent of Asia. It is home to several emerging market countries making the region one of the most dynamic in the world, an important driver of the world's economic growth.

Map of ASEAN countries and capitals
Southeast Asia has a large population of more than 650 million inhabitants. It is a diverse region with rich cultural and natural heritage famous all over the world for tourism and recognized through many UNESCO World Heritage Sites throughout Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia regroups some of the world's fastest growing economies. Many of its major countries attract the attention from global companies and investors willing to do business in the region and reap the benefits of its growth. To do so, they can notably rely upon the chambers of commerce in Southeast Asia from the world's major economic powers and get informed through several news websites from Southeast Asia in English.

ASEAN – Association of South-East Asian Nations

Seal of ASEAN
Seal of ASEAN

The Association of South-East Asian Nations – ASEAN – is an economic and political organisation of 10 countries located in Southeast Asia: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Together they span about 4,46 million km² and gather more that 650 million people which make the ASEAN market very attractive. The 10 ASEAN countries gradually came together to improve common political and economic ties and form a stronger political body as well as an more integrated and larger market.

The ASEAN six majors refers to the six biggest economies of ASEAN in terms of Gross Domestic Product, which are several times larger that the four others:

  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
Infographic: ASEAN economies

Comparison of ASEAN economies by nominal GDP

The ASEAN Economic Community

The ASEAN Economic Community – AEC – is a project of economic integration between the ten ASEAN countries that was launched on 31 December 2015. It aims at providing the following advantages to business in the ASEAN economic community.

  • single market and production base
  • highly competitive economic region
  • region of equitable economic development
  • region fully integrated into the global economy

4 pillars of the ASEAN Economic Community - AEC

ASEAN plus three

The term ASEAN plus three – ASEAN+3 – refers to the will of East Asian countries to develop further political and economic ties between ASEAN nations and:

  • China
  • Japan
  • South Korea

Various other meetings with regional and global partners have been coined with other terminology to facilitate discussions with India, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Russia and the US.

Digital in Southeast Asia

The digital technology sector is currently booming in Southeast Asia, thanks to the rapid development of telecommunications infrastructure and the spread of mobile phones, notably in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. More mature markets like Singapore and Malaysia are not left aside as they harbor diversified eco-systems for tech startups to grow and providing significant sources of revenues for e-commerce and digital services companies.

ASEAN-6 digital population 2018
Key digital numbers in the 6 large markets of Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia by business sectors

For a more focus overview and resources concerning particular business sectors of the ASEAN region, check ASEAN UP's business homepages by theme.

Latest business resources for Southeast Asia

The 6 Tech Unicorns of Southeast Asia

Unicorns of Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is currently experiencing a boom in the technology sector that is led by six unicorn startups. Having become giants in a only a few year, these companies are now regional and global leaders in their respective fields: from e-commerce to ride-hailing, from gaming to travel and digital payments. Continue reading

South Korean opportunities for ASEAN businesses

ASEAN business opportunities with South Korea

Opening a new set of opportunities for ASEAN countries, South Korea is now looking at new ways to develop economic ties in Southeast Asia. As the government scouts for new ways to diversify trade and economic ties, businesses from Southeast Asian countries could find new openings to work with South Korean companies. Continue reading

Billionaires of Southeast Asia

Billionaires of Southeast Asia

Even though it is a developing area, Southeast Asia is already home to tens of billionaires who have built business empires across the region. Having grown their companies by working with their families or as sole entrepreneurs, ASEAN billionaires are at the head of some of the largest corporations of the region. Continue reading

Southeast Asia digital, social and mobile 2018

Southeast Asia digital 2018

Southeast Asia is experiencing a rapid growth of Internet, digital, social media and mobile activity. With more than 370 million Internet users in January 2018 and double-digit growth in most segments and most countries of the region, the digital sector is booming and attracting a lot of interests. Continue reading

US business outlook in ASEAN 2018 [report]

US business oultook in ASEAN 2018

American companies in ASEAN are benefiting from the region’s growth potential and experiencing its dynamism. With an optimistic outlook for Southeast Asia’s economic and business growth, US businesses share their sentiments, perspectives and challenges in this insightful report.
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Southeast Asia digital economy 2017 [report]

Southeast Asia digital economy 2017

Though expectations were high, the growth of Southeast Asia’s digital economy is beating them all. With more than 330 million internet users and double or triple digits growth in several major markets online, the region is confirming the digital boom with the emergence of a first round of local unicorns. Continue reading

ASEAN infrastructure and building materials opportunities

ASEAN infrastructure and building materials opportunities

Good infrastructures are a key to economic activity and development. To boost their growth, ASEAN countries are planning to invest heavily in infrastructures in the coming years: not only will they provide better transport, power and sanitation but also interesting opportunities for suppliers of building materials. Continue reading

The co-working boom of Southeast Asia [market analysis]

Co-working in Southeast Asia

Co-working has emerged as a new and interesting method for independents, startups, entrepreneurs and even certain multinationals to manage their work habits and spaces. Rapidly expanding throughout Southeast Asia, co-working is attracting the appetites of global leaders of this new industry in the region. Continue reading

4 ASEAN infographics: population, market, economy

ASENA infographics

Taken as a single entity, ASEAN represents the world’s third largest market and one the largest economy. Here are some infographics to dive deeper in international economic and demographic comparisons with the US, EU, China, Japan and India, as well as more details on ASEAN countries relative size and economies. Continue reading

ASEAN flag