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ASEAN Attracts Investors And Manufacturers

Last year, the total trade between ASEAN and the United States showed a 9.2 percent increase, growing from $178 billion to $194 billion.

ASEAN imports from the United States increased by 8.6 percent to $76.4 billion while exports grew 9.8 percent to $118. 2 billion.

It said that the United States remained the fourth largest trading partner of ASEAN and, collectively, ASEAN is the fifth largest goods trading partner of the United States.

In the investment side, it said that the United States remained the third largest foreign direct investor in ASEAN.

According to the United States' data, last year, the US foreign direct investment stock in ASEAN countries was $159.6 billion, up 11.2 percent compared to 2010. ASEAN foreign direct investment stock in the United States demonstrated even stronger growth, increasing 13.1 percent to $24.6 billion.

"Asean is the most attractive destination in the eyes of Japanese investors at this time. More and more new players are showing interest in investing here," says Setsuo Iuchi, the president of Jetro's Bangkok office.

"The region has abundant natural resources and low-cost labour, and therefore it will continue to be our priority in foreign investment in the coming years."

Each country in Asean has its own strengths in specific areas, and the investment models vary from one place to the next, said Mr Iuchi, who is also the chief representative for Asean and South Asia of the Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro).

But as a single entity, the region has been gaining momentum, capacity and credibility in world competitiveness. Japanese foreign direct investment in Southeast Asia last year was between 600 billion and 700 billion yen (220-260 billion baht) - more than what Japanese companies invested in China.

In the first half of this year, according to the Board of Investment (BoI), Japanese investors applied for incentives for projects worth a total of 130 billion baht for incentives.

"Half of the Japanese investors visiting my office for advice and guidance are interested in investing in Thailand," said Mr Iuchi. "The environment and the workers here are very warm and welcoming. And importantly, Thailand has a very fine location is being the centre of this region".

AmCham Singapore said on Thursday its survey of 356 senior executives working for U.S. companies in the region showed that 21 percent planned to reduce reliance on China by moving some businesses to Southeast Asia over the next two years, up from 15 percent in a 2011 survey.

According to AmCham Singapore, 92 percent of the executives surveyed said they were positive about investment opportunities in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN - a regional grouping that comprises Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.

Malaysia and the Philippines were the top choices for expansion, with both getting cited by 27 percent of respondents with plans to reduce their reliance on China. In a survey last year, 21 percent of those expecting to move some operations favored Malaysia, and 11 percent cited the Philippines.

In the new survey, the next most favored destinations were Vietnam and Thailand, with 24 percent each. The proportion citing Vietnam was down from 34 percent in the 2011 survey, when it was the top choice.

Indonesia was cited by 23 percent, compared with 11 percent last year.

After two decades of focusing on trade, Chinese companies are now increasingly interested in investing in ASEAN. The turning point was in 2010, when the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement took effect.

The pact created the third-largest free trade area in the world after the European Union and the North America Free Trade Area - Canada, the United States and Mexico. Its emergence prompted China's Vice-Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng to note that "investment between both sides has entered a stage of more rapid expansion".

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - 10 countries with 584 million people and a combined GDP of about $6 trillion in 2010, about the same as China's but with half the population.

"Relative to trade, investment has been relatively low," said Frederick Gibson, an associate economist at Moody's Analytics who focuses on the region. "But the agreement in 2010 paved the way (for growth)."

A number of initiatives are facilitating mutual investment in China and ASEAN countries.

Investment attention turning to ASEAN

The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade has an information platform on investment in ASEAN countries, including awards. The ninth edition of the China-ASEAN Expo, an annual event, will be held in Nanning, capital of South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, in September, highlighting the growing investment links between the two.

By the end of 2010, more than 1,000 Chinese companies had invested about $2.9 billion in Indonesia, a jump of 31.7 percent from 2009. Chinese companies are also looking for acquisitions and joint ventures in sectors such as oil, gas and coal.

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd first started setting up subsidiaries and branches in ASEAN countries in 1999. By 2005, it was controlling about 20 percent of the mobile network market. In 2011, the company announced plans to lay underwater cables between Malaysia and Indonesia to provide more communication bandwidth.

It has been particularly successful in Indonesia, though, according to Huawei Indonesia Deputy Director Dani K. Ristandi, it wasn't easy entering the Indonesian market. Despite initial difficulties, the company notched up a sales revenue of $1 billion in 2010.

In Malaysia, Chinese companies are investing in high value-added petrochemical manufacturing, underlining the push toward more qualitative investment in the region, and not just resources extraction or cheap manufacturing. Eight Chinese companies are listed on the stock exchange in Kuala Lumpur, the largest of them being China Stationery, which went public last November.

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