ASEAN’s growing middle class a top target for Aussie food and beverage businesses

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

Some characteristics and opportunities of ASEAN include rising meat consumption, a developing dairy segment and increasing demand for Australian grains. ©GettyImages
Some characteristics and opportunities of ASEAN include rising meat consumption, a developing dairy segment and increasing demand for Australian grains. ©GettyImages
South East Asia’s growing middle class and the ASEAN nations’ developing markets are attracting more Australian food and beverage businesses seeking commercial or investment opportunities.

Australian firms are optimistic about the growing populations, affluence and resulting business opportunities in these country markets, indicated a recently released Australian Chamber of Commerce (AustCham) survey of businesses in the 10 ASEAN markets.

Other characteristics and opportunities of ASEAN include rising meat consumption, decreasing farmland, a developing dairy segment and increasing demand for Australian grains.

The collaboration between these national markets, including in economic integration, as well as growing infrastructure are further pull factors for Australian firms to look to grow trade and investment with these countries over the next decade or so.

According to the report, about slightly less than 90% of Australian firms are planning on growing trade or investment with ASEAN in the next five years. Of these, 44% indicated an anticipated significant investment or growth in presence.

According to the Canberra Times​, Australian farm exports to the 10 ASEAN nations in 2016 — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — were valued at almost AU$8.8bn.

Comparatively, Australia’s farm exports to China in the same period amounted to close to AU$5.5bn.

The report indicated, since then, the share of Australian firms planning to increase their presence significantly in ASEAN has almost doubled.

The survey also noted challenges such as restrictions on ownership and investment, as well as access to skilled labour. Nonetheless, currency volatility is no longer of concern with greater economic stability in most countries in the region.

New hunger and opportunities

Based on the report, ANZ also stated it sees significant business and economic opportunities in the South East Asian region, due to population growth, increased urbanisation, and rising incomes.

“ASEAN is forecast to become the 4th largest economy in the world after the EU, US and China by 2030, while its populating is expected to rise to 726 million compared with 650 million now,” ​said Mark Whelan, Group Executive, Institutional, ANZ.

Some positive indicators for the food industry he highlighted included an increasing demand for more protein, as well as the search for more and reliable suppliers.

“And the Australian brand which is clean, green and reliable really plays into that,”​ he said.

He also suggested that Australia could play a leading role to the region in the area of agtech.

Significant milestone

The survey was launched before the start of the ASEAN Special Summit, which was hosted by Australia for the first time. Jane Duke, Australian ambassador to ASEAN said it was “historic”​ for ASEAN-Australia relations and called 2017 a milestone year for Australian business engagement in ASEAN.

“In ASEAN’s 50th anniversary year, two Australian business chambers were established with a regional focus. AustCham ASEAN, which is a confederation of the various AustCham organisations in the region, and the Australia-ASEAN Business Council (AABC), based in Brisbane,”​ she said.

She said ASEAN now accounts for 14% of Australia’s total trade and $224bn in two-way investment.

Australia’s Trade Minister Steven Ciobo affirmed that the survey revealed that the Pacific nation has a “significant appetite”​ to engage with ASEAN, especially in terms of further investments.

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