Southeast Asia Has an Investment Boom, Thanks to the Trade War

Southeast Asia becoming an alternative base for firms relocating production away from China to avoid levies.

Southeast Asia Has an Investment Boom, Thanks to the Trade War
A worker arranges pieces of fabric under embroidery machines inside the Esquel Group garment factory at the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park in Thuan An, Binh Duong province, Vietnam. (Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)

(Bloomberg) -- Southeast Asia is seeing a boom in foreign direct investment as the intensifying trade war between the U.S. and China prompts companies to shift production to the region.

Vietnam saw manufacturing inflows jump 18 percent in the first nine months of 2018, driven by investments including a $1.2 billion polypropylene production project by South Korea’s Hyosung Corp., according to a Maybank Kim Eng Research Pte. note on Monday.

In January through July, Thailand’s net FDI rose 53 percent from a year earlier to $7.6 billion, with manufacturing inflows surging almost five times, according to central bank data. In the Philippines, net FDI into manufacturing surged to $861 million in the same period from $144 million a year earlier.

“The U.S.-China trade war may be attracting more firms to set up in Asean to circumvent the tariffs,” Maybank economists Chua Hak Bin and Lee Ju Ye said in the note. “Sectors such as consumer products, industrial, technology & telecom hardware, automotive and chemicals have indicated interest in Southeast Asia.”

Southeast Asia is finding there’s some upside to the trade war, as it becomes an alternative base for firms relocating production away from China to avoid levies. About one-third of more than 430 American companies in China have or are considering moving production sites abroad amid the tensions, according to an Aug. 29 to Sept. 5 survey.

“Escalated trade tensions only accelerate the ongoing trend,” said Trinh Nguyen, a senior economist at Natixis Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong. “Southeast Asia serves both as a great growth market, a place to offshore thanks to lower costs of production and liberalization of trade, as well as a source of mitigation from geopolitical risks.”

Still, the region certainly isn’t immune to the fallout from the dispute -- a report out today cited the trade war as a factor in Thailand’s unexpected exports slump in September.

The following companies plan to relocate production to Southeast Asia or increase existing facilities there, according to Maybank:

Company SectorNote
Harley Davidson Inc.MotorcyclesShifted part of its processes to Thailand
Panasonic Corp.ElectronicsClosed its U.S. plant in early 2017 and switched to consignment production and exports from Malaysia
Steven Madden Ltd.Shoes and accessoriesAnnounced that it has been shifting production of handbags to Cambodia from China
KayamaticsInternet of Things devicesHas two Chinese factories but plans to set up production lines in Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia
Delta Electronics Inc.Supplies power components to Apple Inc.Offered $2.1 billion in July to purchase a Thai affiliate to expand production
Merry Electronics Co.Makes headphones for firms like Bose Corp.Intends to move some of its production to Thailand from southern China

To contact the reporter on this story: Karl Lester M. Yap in Manila at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at, Chris Bourke, Karthikeyan Sundaram

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