Opportunities in South East Asia - an overview


Invest Northern Ireland is increasing its international network with Regional Managers in 10 additional territories around the world, helping NI companies to grow exports.

Nick Caldwell who has taken up the post in Singapore, outlines the opportunities in South East Asia.

My role is to support Northern Ireland companies with exporting to South East Asia. We are particularly, but not exclusively, focused on the region’s larger economies of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand. South East Asia is a large and diverse market that collectively has a population of 630 million people, is the 3rd largest non-EU market globally, and holds great potential for Northern Ireland companies and exporters.

In the latest 12 month rolling period until June 2017, Northern Ireland companies exported at least £280 million to South East Asia.

Strong economic growth over the last twenty years has driven prosperity and helped to spread wealth throughout the region. It is expected that there will be more than 400 million people defined as middle income by 2020. This has resulted in increased spending on food and drinks, healthcare and life sciences, technology, education and a greater need for financial services.

To support this increase in population and wealth, infrastructure spending will continue to increase, presenting great opportunities for Northern Ireland’s materials handling, construction, aerospace, transport, waste and water management and civil engineering companies. For the most part, the economies of South East Asia are ‘open’ economies and are actively looking for outside expertise and partners.

That being said, each of the 10 countries that make up the ASEAN region are at different stages of economic development, and consequently there will be differing and unique opportunities in each. It is worth noting that Singapore as the gateway to the region has many global MNC’s and South East Asian businesses and distributors head-quartered there can provide an easy access point to the region as a whole.

Indonesia and Philippines are less advanced than their neighbours (of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand) but due to their large, fast growing economies with upwardly mobile populations they should be viewed as prime export destinations for most categories.

When we look at South East Asia in general, it is a global hub for manufacturing and distribution and provides access points for Northern Ireland companies to reach international customers as part of the global supply chain to China and the United States.

As well as considering the different opportunities in each country, exporters need to be aware of how language, law, corporate governance standards, country and currency risks differ across the region. All that being said, the key thing is that there is likely to be multiple markets and opportunities for Northern Ireland companies interested in exporting to the region.

My background as a Chartered Accountant and working in capital markets in South East Asia for over twenty years has provided me with deep insight into how South East Asian companies and the region's economies work, and how to enter markets and expand geographically. I am experienced in investing in emerging growth companies and in bringing foreign companies to the region to access capital and the South East Asia market. I am delighted to bring this experience to bear, and look forward to working successfully with Northern Ireland exporters.

We are able to provide a wide variety of services to assist Northern Ireland companies at all stages of their export journey:

  • international trade advisory services
  • initial market entry & research services
  • high value campaigns (direct face-to-face with distributors and buyers of goods and services)
  • guidance on local regulation

Opportunities here are abundant for ambitious and focused Northern Ireland companies. If you would like to explore these further with Invest NI’s help then please contact your Client Manager or our Business Support Team on 0800 181 4422.