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HKTDC & UOB Research: 85% of GBA businesses prioritise ASEAN sales

Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are top target markets

HONG KONG, Jan 9, 2024 - (ACN Newswire) - About 85% of businesses in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA) plan to maintain or grow their sales to the ASEAN bloc of countries in the next three years, according to a research report released by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) and UOB today. The report – Navigating Connectivity: Exploring ASEAN Opportunities for the Greater Bay Area – also indicated that Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam were the top sales markets for expansion-minded GBA businesses, while Vietnam remained top choice for procurement and production outsourcing.

Overall, the report shed some light on why GBA businesses found ASEAN appealing. The sheer scale of the ASEAN market was singled out by 55.9% of research respondents as a key catalyst for their expansion plans. Scale was ahead of the 49.6% accorded to government incentives and investment policies and 32.8% which cited enhanced e-commerce access.

The HKTDC-UOB survey conducted in the third quarter of last year took the form of a questionnaire completed by 671 GBA enterprises, supplemented by in-depth interviews with a representative number of GBA businesses.

More GBA companies plan to expand into ASEAN markets

The survey found more than 70% of respondents planned to expand to ASEAN in the next three years, compared with 60% in a similar survey conducted in 2021. The number is even higher for those already established in ASEAN, with 96% of such businesses planning to maintain or expand operations in the next three years.

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GBA companies across the four surveyed sectors – consumer goods; business, professional and financial services; real estate, hospitality and construction; and technology, media and telecommunications – all saw Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as having the greatest potential to thrive in. In terms of industrial goods, GBA businesses considered Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam their priority markets. Malaysia’s popularity across companies in the four sectors was considerably higher than in the 2021 survey.

Key challenges

GBA businesses regarded navigating local government policies and regulations (48.6%) as the key challenge to expanding their market share within ASEAN, followed by cultural or language barriers (38.7%) and difficulties in obtaining talent (26.4%). This differs notably from the 2021 survey, which identified inadequate infrastructure, difficulties in finding the right local partners and the increasing cost of doing business as the top three challenges.

Mrs Christine Ip, CEO – Greater China, UOB, said: “UOB is dedicated to driving business connectivity between ASEAN and China. We see the a strong trend among GBA enterprises to spread their wings abroad and boost long-term growth. With our cross-border and customised financial solutions, foreign direct investment advisory services and a deep understanding of local markets, sector knowledge and partnership ecosystem, we help to reduce barriers of cross-border expansion, address supply chain risks and minimise financing costs for customers. Since the inception of the UOB Foreign Direct Investment Advisory unit in 2011, we have supported nearly 4,000 companies to successfully enter ASEAN markets. This success underscores the Bank’s commitment to doing right by our customers.”

Hong Kong’s connectivity with GBA and ASEAN

In another key finding, most GBA businesses had a particularly high regard for Hong Kong’s strong connectivity with both the GBA and ASEAN bloc – more than 70% of respondents accorded the city a score of seven or more out of 10. Hong Kong’s expertise in service provision was seen as essential for sustained success in the ASEAN market and also its most admired asset. Hong Kong scored highly for its expertise in legal compliance, cross-border infrastructure finance and logistics. This was seen as an endorsement of the quality of services the city provides and an indication of the massive contribution Hong Kong is set to make as the GBA continues to prosper.

Commenting on the findings, Mr Louis Chan, Deputy Director of HKTDC Research, said: “This survey confirms both the bold and outward-looking nature of the GBA’s overall development strategy, while highlighting the essential role Hong Kong can play in ensuring this initiative reaches its full potential. It shows beyond doubt that synergy between the GBA members assures them of a better future than they could have achieved alone.”

Mrs Ip added: “In tandem with the promotion of free trade agreements, technology empowerment and higher business plans, the findings show we stand at the crossroads of burgeoning investment opportunities between Greater China and ASEAN. Hong Kong has a unique position as a super connector and value-adder, driving financial innovation, facilitating cross-border trade and nurturing economic prosperity to shape a future where business connectivity in this dynamic region knows no boundaries.”

Regional integration, digitalisation and cost management essential for ASEAN success

Overall, 53.7% of GBA companies noted that geographic economic integration initiatives, particularly the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), were likely to boost their chances of success within ASEAN, followed by digitalisation (51.9%) and cost management, including moving production to lower-cost locations (40.8%).

Most respondents credited the effectiveness of RCEP at streamlining and accelerating trade between the region’s most dynamic economies – including Mainland China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – as the main reason for its success.

Surveyed enterprises also believed digitalisation had been crucial for the maintenance of economic and supply chain resilience amid the unprecedented impact of the pandemic. They also viewed digitalisation as a key productivity driver, reducing operational costs and facilitating business and investment expansion in the region. In all, 23.2% of companies saw digitalisation as a priority for their business which was likely to boost their chances of successfully entering the ASEAN market.

Related materials

• HKTDC Research:

• The report in Chinese - Navigating Connectivity: Exploring ASEAN Opportunities for the Greater Bay Area can be downloaded from the websites of HKTDC and UOB Hong Kong.

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