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US businesses in Asean remain optimistic: survey

US companies remain generally optimistic about business prospects in Asean.

US companies remain generally optimistic about business prospects in Asean, shows the annual Asean Business Outlook Survey by the US Chamber of Commerce and The American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (AmCham Singapore).

In a poll of 471 senior executives representing US companies in all 10 Asean countries, 72 per cent reported that their companies' level of trade and investment in the region has increased over the past two years, and 86 per cent of respondents expect it to increase over the next five years.

"The Asean region continues its solid growth despite regional and global economic headwinds, and this survey demonstrates that US businesses remain confident about prospects in Asean," said Tami Overby, US Chamber of Commerce senior vice-president, Asia, who added that this confidence cannot be taken for granted. "We have also seen a modest, but clear, downward drift over the past several years, in terms of some of overall indicators of optimism."

More than half of those surveyed said that Asean markets have become more important in terms of their companies' worldwide revenues over the past two years - this is 10 percentage points lower than reported two years earlier.

Two-thirds (66 per cent) of respondents this year expect Asean to become more important in terms of worldwide revenues over the next two years. While still high, this is seven percentage points lower than two years earlier.

Judith Fergin, AmCham Singapore executive director, said 2015 will be a landmark year for Asean in many ways.

The launch of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) will strengthen the region's attractiveness to investors, but Ms Fergin said the priorities Asean sets for the post-AEC agenda will determine the pace of development across the region.

In terms of future priority areas of work to enhance regional economic integration, survey respondents placed the greatest emphasis on overcoming non-tariff barriers to trade, increasing transparency, and promoting good governance.

US companies identified a variety of concerns and impediments to their growth in the region.

As in previous years' surveys, corruption was the top issue across Asean, cited by the majority of respondents in all countries except Brunei and Singapore.

American companies also highlighted burdensome laws and regulations, lack of transparency, poor quality of infrastructure, and the difficulty in moving products through the Customs in some countries as obstacles to greater investment.

Of those polled, 77 per cent said exchange rate volatility has a "significant" or "somewhat significant" impact on their business operations in the region.

"For the US, it means that we need to continue to work in partnership with Asean to identify the policies that will best promote long-term economic growth to the benefit of both Asean and the US. The TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) is a huge part of this picture for the Asean countries that are participating in it, and we continue to encourage those countries that are not to consider joining," said Ms Overby.