• US business optimistic on Asean growth

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    Companies in the United States remain optimistic about business prospects in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), with the Philippines dubbed as the “most improved,” according to a recent survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines (AmCham Philippines) and the US Chamber of Commerce.

    The “Asean Business Outlook Survey 2014,” was conducted from May 10 to June 10
    and involved 475 business leaders from US companies on their investment plans, outlook for the region and the key challenges and perceptions in the 10 Asean countries.

    Of the respondents, 79 percent reported that their company’s level of trade and investment in the region increased over the past two years, with 91 percent expecting further increases over the next five years.

    The Philippines was the greatest gainer in satisfaction in the region over the last five years, with a 50-percent increase in satisfaction with the stability of the government and political system in the country. Of the respondents, 87 percent reported satisfaction with the availability of trained Filipino personnel, also the highest in the region.

    The survey revealed that the most attractive country for expanding new businesses is Indonesia, followed by Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar. Also, interest in Myanmar continues to grow as more companies are either exporting or investing there, or are planning to do so.

    The respondents showed satisfaction in other key areas. There was 74-percent satisfaction with the availability of low cost labor; 56-percent satisfaction with personal security; 56- and 51-percent satisfaction with housing costs and office lease costs, respectively; 44-percent satisfaction with new business incentives offered by governments; 41-percent satisfaction with the free movement of goods in the regions; while there was 38-percent satisfaction with the availability of raw materials.

    Despite general optimism about business prospects in the region, the respondents also reported dissatisfaction in several areas, with corruption as the greatest concern with 50 percent, tax structure with 56 percent, infrastructure at 54 percent, laws and regulations at 46 percent and ease of moving products through customs at 44 percent.

    Many respondents were also unsure of the political impact of the two major regional free-trade agreements currently in negotiations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

    “Asean has the opportunity to position itself at the center of a very exciting evolving regional trade architecture,” Tami Overby, the US Chamber’s vice president for Asia, said in a statement.

    “This survey shows that US companies are thinking regionally, and as Asean continues to integrate, US companies will need to increasingly focus on strategies to realize Asean’s potential,” she added.

    “I think we can attribute this increase in satisfaction to the country’s recent GDP [gross domestic product]growth rates, which improved confidence in doing business in the country,” said Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., Philippine Exporters Confederation president and also Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman.

    “This makes the country more attractive to foreign investors and those who are planning to expand their businesses,” he added.

    Jan Erick C. Tutaan

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