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Export to South East Asia

Successfully tap into new markets.

On this page

  • Key opportunities for exporting to South East Asia
  • Victorian Government support
  • Advice on doing business in South East Asia

The South East Asia region and its economy

The South East Asian region is often referred to as the geo-political grouping of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The political and economic group was formed in 1967 to accelerate economic growth and promote regional stability. It contains 10 of the 11 nations (with the exception of East Timor) that make up the geographic region.

The nations of the South East Asian region have a combined population of approximately 625.9 million and a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$2.46 trillion.

The countries that make up the South East Asian region are:

  • Brunei Darussalam
  • Cambodia
  • East Timor
  • Indonesia
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam.

Trade with South East Asia

South East Asia is an important and growing market for Australian exports. As a guide, merchandise exports to the region were worth A$30.1 billion in 2014-15, making Australia its ninth largest source of imports. Major exports included crude petroleum, gold, wheat and aluminium.

Victoria's exports to ASEAN have increased in recent years, and were valued at A$3.9 billion in 2014-15. In 2014-15 Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia were Victoria's seventh, eighth and ninth largest export markets respectively. Victoria's major exports to South East Asia include dairy, meat, aluminium, wheat and processed food products.

Current and emerging opportunities 

Key opportunities for Victorian export growth include:

  • aviation
  • food and beverage
  • health and aged care
  • international education
  • infrastructure.

Rapid population growth and urbanisation across the region are driving significant opportunities across many industry sectors. Food, aviation, health and aged care, education services and infrastructure are common opportunity themes emerging from the region.

Aviation

Skills development for the aviation sector presents a strong opportunity for Victoria's universities, TAFEs and private sector providers. Air traffic and passenger movements across the region are growing rapidly, placing strain on existing infrastructure and driving the need for new airports and system efficiencies. ASEAN nations introduced an 'Open Skies' policy at the end of 2015, providing ASEAN airlines with access to all national airports across the region.

Food and beverage

The food and beverage sector is an increasingly sophisticated opportunity across the larger markets of South East Asia. Influenced by health and convenience trends, consumers have a greater awareness of nutritional value and food fortification for healthcare, which has created the demand for functional, minimally processed fresh, organic and natural foods. Traditional dairy products and higher value-added nutri-ceuticals, processed meat and meat products (including halal), and tradeable services also offer strong opportunities. Key markets include Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Health and aged care

The rapid transformation of the healthcare industry across South East Asia is creating many opportunities for Victoria's broad-based capability in this sector. An ageing population across the region is driving opportunities for capacity and capability building in aged care as well as broader healthcare services in ASEAN markets. Opportunities in the market include services for elderly care/home care organisations, professional training for medical staff and medical devices for the elderly, as well as hospital and facility design, vocational training and research collaboration.

International education

Victoria is a leading provider of on-shore and off-shore education services to the region. Vocational education and training, English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS), and higher education key markets include Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

Infrastructure

Opportunities exist for Victorian companies and organisations in the infrastructure sector in:

  • building and construction
  • sustainable urban design
  • corporate capacity building (business services)
  • transport and logistics services
  • water technology
  • resources industry (mining, oil and gas) in technology supply and services

Key infrastructure markets include Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Victorian Government support

The Victorian Government provides targeted support to businesses through its Access Program and Trade Mission program.  The Victorian Government is building the profile of Victorian exports in South East Asia through sustained engagement via larger inbound and outbound trade missions, sector-specific missions and industry promotion.

The Victorian Government has two Victorian Government Business Offices (VGBOs) in the ASEAN region. These offices, located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Jakarta, Indonesia, are able to provide in-market intelligence and support to Victorian companies wishing to export to the region.

Additionally, the Victorian Government announced in 2014 that it will establish a VGBO in Singapore, which will provide further in-market support to those interested in exporting to and investing in this market.

Doing business in South East Asia

South East Asia encompasses a diverse mix of cultures and cannot be approached using a one-size-fits-all business model. Countries should be considered individually when doing business within the region, as socio-cultural differences, legal and regulatory requirements can vary widely.

Relationships are an important part of doing business in Asia and Victorian businesses should look beyond the short-term business transaction and consider the longer term potential of the relationship, both on a personal and business level.

Due diligence in any export market is paramount and South East Asia is no exception. Companies should work closely with state and federal governments, as well as local authorities to help them fully understand those they are doing business with.

Regulatory and legal environment

The South East Asian region currently has four free trade agreements in place with Australia:

  • ASEAN Australia and New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA)
  • Malaysia Australia Free Trade Agreement (MAFTA)
  • Singapore Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA)
  • Thailand Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA).

Currently, there are three additional agreements that may impact on future Australian business with South East Asian nations:

  • Indonesia Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IACEPA)
  • Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP)
  • Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) (to which ASEAN member countries Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam are signatories).
Of these, the first two are still under negotiation, while the latter is awaiting ratification.

AANZFTA provides for the progressive reduction or, for most products, elimination of tariffs facing Australian goods exports to ASEAN countries over a transition period, and the elimination of all Australian tariffs on imports from AANZFTA parties. This affects all goods and services imports, exports and investments between Australia, New Zealand and the ten ASEAN countries. 

It is recommended that Victorian companies familiarise themselves with how their products and services are impacted by these FTAs and the responsibilities required from them when doing business in the region.

ASEAN Economic Community

In 2015 ASEAN introduced the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which aims to integrate all economies within the region to allow free movement of goods, services, skilled labour, investment and free flow of capital.

Whilst it remains to be seen what implications the AEC will have on foreign businesses engaging in the region, the introduction of the AEC is seen as a largely positive initiative.