The ASEAN Key Figures 2021 reported a consolidated GDP in 2020 of $3.0 trillion for the ASEAN region, which is home to over 680 million people. Ranking it as the 5th largest economy in the world, after Germany ($3.8 trillion). By 2030 the ASEAN are likely to become the 4th largest economy, considering the current growth rate and future growth outlook, that is forecasted to an annual 5% for the next decade. This article will investigate the role of ASEAN+ in the global value chain, their growth potential and how the region can strengthen its position. 

ASEAN – The World’s Manufacturing Hub 

No matter if electronics (Thailand, Malaysia, and Philippines), automotives, rubbers (Thailand), machineries, chemicals (Malaysia), textiles, garments (Vietnam), semiconductors (Philippines and Singapore), biopharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, medical technologies (Singapore) and many others, companies around the world rely on their production sites or their sourcing located in the fast-growing ASEAN market. Although – besides from Singapore – this is mainly true for low-wage assembly work, current and future developments are creating new opportunities for the region and seem to be the chance for the ASEAN to move up the manufacturing value chain. These developments involve the companies’ need for more resilience in their supply chains, the ongoing digitalization and fourth industrial revolution as well as the growing pressure on companies to lower their emissions. 

Visit at the Bernina Factory in Thailand during the On-Site Seminar 2022

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership 

On 1 January 2022 the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) came into force. The world’s biggest regional free trade agreement was signed on 15 November 2020 between the ASEAN+ (excluding India) and aims to strengthen the region’s competitiveness. This is especially true for manufacturing. The agreement covers around 30% of global GDP and world population. Furthermore, it is accounting for over 25% of global trade volume. 

The RCEP is expected to accelerate the flow of goods and investments between Southeast Asia and their trade partners and will help ASEAN+ to gain further importance in the global value chain. The FTA within ASEAN+ will lower trade barriers, making it easier and cheaper to import manufacturing inputs and provides new opportunities for companies in designing supply chains that leverage advantages and skills across the ASEAN members. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that by 2030, $400 to $600 billion additional output can be generated yearly. Foreign Direct Investment (FDIs) have the potential to increase between $14 and $22 billion per year and 90’000 to 140’000 new jobs can be created annually. 

©/MAXPPP – 3rd Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit on the sidelines of the 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit on November 4, 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo by Liu Zhen/China News Service/VCG)

Foreign Direct Investment 

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has been the main driver for growth in manufacturing across the region. Originally, the US, EU and Japan have been the biggest sources of FDIs. However, investments from Asian markets like China or South Korea are on the rise when manufacturers started to look for low-cost production sites and to deeply penetrate ASEAN markets. 

Although the Covid-19 pandemic lowered FDI in the ASEAN by nearly 25 percent from $182 billion in 2019 down to $137.3 billion in 2020, ASEAN remains one of the most attractive investment destinations. According to the ASEAN Investment Report 2020-2021, the ASEAN share of global FDI increased from 11.9% in 2019 to 13.7% in 2020. Moreover, in the period between 2018 to 2020 the annual financing of international projects in ASEAN amounted to $74 billion, which means a 100% increase to the previous period between 2015-2017. 

Collaboration Efforts Boosted by the Global Pandemic 

To counter the pandemic challenges in the global value chain ASEAN countries undertook collaboration efforts to ensure the flow of essential goods, as well as to increase resilience in supply chains and sourcing among the member states. In this regard, one of the most important collaboration plans launched during the pandemic, was the Hanoi Plan of Action on Strengthening ASEAN Economic Cooperation and Supply Chain Connectivity in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The joint response was crucial as the majority of FDIs are linked to global value chain activities and production networks in the region. 

Gaining Importance of Diversification in Supply Chains 

The pandemic has caused major disruption in supply chains and learned companies more than before to reduce risks through diversification of their sourcing and production portfolios away from single sources in order to enhance resilience in their supply chains. A survey by Gartner in 2021 found that 87% of supply chain professionals are planning to invest in supply chain resilience within the next two years. Similarly, a Nikkei survey in 2021 stated that 84% of Japanese companies who manufacture domestically began to diversify their supply chains in response to the pandemic. There are good reasons for management to focus on supply chain resiliency. Rising economic nationalism, persistent trade frictions between the USA and China and of course the current disruptions caused by governmental restrictions due to the Covid-19 outbreaks around the world and nowadays especially in the People’s Republic of China. Therefore, more and more manufacturers are exploring alternative production sites or adapting the so-called China Plus One strategy. A strategy that is said to reduce risks of disruption significantly, while maintaining manufacturing presence in the important market of China. A further trend that can be observed and will help companies improving supply chain resilience, is the relocation of production sites closer to end markets. 

Industry 4.0 

The locating of more flexible small batch production facilities closer to end consumers is possible through emerging technologies coming with the fourth industrial revolution. Yet, most of the MNCs and Southeast Asian companies are not embracing digital technologies – such as advanced robotics or real-time digital factory simulations – in ways that can put them at the forefront of Industry 4.0. However, unlocking the potential of industry 4.0 systems will be crucial to ASEAN to strengthen its role in the global value chain. Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia have already announced plans to invest in new manufacturing technologies like cloud computing applications, advanced robotics and industrial Internet of Things (IoT). To become more global competitive, companies in the region should move early to capture new opportunities and gain advantages. 

How ASEAN+ Can Strengthen Its Position

Southeast Asia with its relatively open access to Western and Asian markets, will continue to be a prime candidate for new plant sites. New opportunities will arise in ASEAN manufacturing sectors as new manufacturing clusters are established in the region. 

The distribution of specific skills and strengths among the ASEAN+ countries combined with the removal of trade barriers through RCEP and other agreements among member states, provides a great opportunity for companies to adapt twinning models that allow them to take advantage of low-cost manufacturing in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand and advanced manufacturing in Singapore, South Korea or Japan. By creating multinational value chains, companies can benefit from the strengths of each location and the economic integration of the region.  

The ASEAN Investment Report 2020-2021 emphasizes opportunities to boost more sustainable FDI in the region, especially FDI connected to the value chain, which will not only be facilitated by the RCEP but also by the recent ASEAN Investment Facilitation Framework (AIFF). Moreover, ASEAN is pushing for digital transformation and private investment in the development of digital infrastructure, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and smart manufacturing. The automotive and mobility industry awaits with new opportunities for the region thanks to the growing demand for all types of electric vehicles (EVs). Not only could ASEAN leverage its large market, but also its nickel reserves. The raw material is a key to the production of EV batteries. Finally, trade tensions and disruptions in the global supply chain are also creating opportunities for ASEAN in forward-looking sectors such as medical technology, biopharmaceuticals and chemicals. 

Source: 3DEXPERIENCE Company

Manufacturers and members in the region must seize these opportunities now and position themselves to take advantage of these current changes, increase productivity and expand market share. This will require meeting commitments agreed between governments and making major investments in infrastructure and workforce development. By doing so, the deployment of Industry 4.0 is likely to accelerate and boost productivity. The current economic developments in global manufacturing are a great opportunity for the ASEAN+ market to strengthen its position in the global value chain and allow more people in the region to benefit from socioeconomic progress. 



Exploring Collaboration Opportunities with Singapore

Meeting with the Science Counselor of the Swiss Embassy in Singapore to explore Collaboration

On December 17, 2021, exploreASEAN together with the head of International Relations, Prof. Robert Buttery welcomed Mr. Joël Henri Brunner, Science Counselor at the Embassy of Switzerland in Singapore. The purpose of the meeting held at the campus Olten was to explore possibilities of support for the project and to discuss means of expanding FHNW’s collaboration with Singaporean universities.

From left to right: Marco Müller, Selina Stücker, Dr. Teresa Freiburghaus, Mr. Joël Henri Brunner, Marsha Schurtenberger, Anil Singh, and Prof. Robert Buttery.

Singapore: A Knowledge-Based Economy

Since their independence in 1965, Singapore has remarkably developed from a low-income country to a high-income country with an average GDP growth of 7.3% (until 2019). Everything started with the government recognizing that they must make up technologically for the country’s constraints in resources. Their most valuable resources: the people. At the beginning they struggled to get the scientists and engineers willing to pursue in R&D. However, thanks to Singapore’s substantial investment efforts in R&D within the science and technology area, the island city-state has managed to become a true knowledge-based economy that thrives on innovation and enterprise. According to the World Bank Human Capital Index, Singapore leads the ranking as the best nation worldwide in human capital development.

Singapore, Marina Bay.

The Potential of Swiss Universities of Applied Science

Today, Singapore’s universities are among the top ranked universities in the world. This is especially the case in engineering and technology (e.g. NUS and NTU) but also in the field of business and management (e.g. Singapore Management University). Whereas high ranked Swiss universities like the ETH or EPFL are well connected with Singaporean universities, Swiss universities of applied science are still in process of establishing a foothold and build these partnerships. Recently, Singapore and its universities have recognized the need for a more practical education going beyond academic merit, greatly increasing the interest in the offerings of Swiss applied universities.

That shift has been recognized by Mr. Brunner, who is responsible to promote and strengthen bilateral cooperation between Singapore and Switzerland in the domains of education, research and innovation. He stated that Singapore has been closely watching the Swiss education system. In his view, Swiss universities of applied science are doing very good work and he believes that there is great potential for exchange with Singaporean institutions. In the case of the FHNW School of Business, this work has recently paid off with the prestigious AACSB accreditation, underlining the potential of Swiss universities of applied science and their students.

Marsha Schurtenberger and Anil Singh presenting the project to Mr. Joël Henri Brunner.

After a brief introduction from Prof. Buttery to the vision and mission with the long-term goals of the School of Business in terms of international collaboration, our project members Anil Singh and Marsha Schurtenberger presented the 7th edition of the project to Mr. Brunner, providing him with a good general overview and with the mission of our project, which is to build bridges for young talents through teaching cultural values and business aspects of the ASEAN region and providing a network where students of the FHNW can connect with their potential future employer.

Supervisor Dr. Freiburghaus further explained that the project team needs to work out everything by themselves. For instance, the project’s theme and the decision on the visiting destinations, the planning and execution of the seminars in Switzerland and abroad, or the financing of the project by acquiring new sponsors. Not to forget the selection of an interdisciplinary delegation across all the schools of the university of applied science.

Active exchange between the participants.

Prof. Buttery proudly added that the four international student projects (ISP) are enabling students to apply what they have learned during their studies. He stressed that ultimately it is not about the ranking of a university, but about what the students are capable of. Moreover, Prof. Buttery explained that the prestigious ISPs, which are not quite easy for students to join due to the strong competition, are a good springboard for the students into the global business world and will enhance their employability.

Obligatory photo shoot in front of the FHNW campus in Olten.

The Role of exploreASEAN

When Mr. Brunner was asked why he had decided to visit the FHNW, he explained that while he was researching links between Singapore and Swiss institutions, he had stumbled upon the exploreASEAN website and was impressed by the project.

Mr. Brunner further emphasized the importance of teaching students to tackle complex problems in cross functional teams to best prepare them for the “real world”. The FHNW degree programmes build on cross-functionality and exploreASEAN is thus a good example of showcasing this. He is convinced that the exploreASEAN project can support him in demonstrating through his platforms, what Swiss universities of applied sciences and their students can do. For example, Mr. Brunner discussed the potential of showcasing the insights gained by exploreASEAN on the online platform nextrends-Asia, helping to increase visibility for the projects and the students individually. The platform regularly showcases upcoming education, research, innovation and policy trends from China, India, Israel, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia, and how Switzerland’s innovation players engage with them.

Finally, Mr. Brunner assured that the Ambassador Filliez and the Swiss Embassy in Singapore will be happy to support exploreASEAN with linking them up with potential partners and sponsors and welcoming them at their premises.

The team thanked Mr. Brunner for his support and is looking forward to welcome him in February 2022 at the Seminar in Switzerland.



The ASEAN Smart Logistics Network (ASLN)

The ASEAN Smart Logistics Network (ASLN)

One year ago, on November 14, 2020, during the 37th ASEAN Summit the President of Vietnam and former Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and the Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched the ASEAN Smart Logistics Network (ASLN) together with its first project, the Vinh Phuc Inland Container Depot (ICD) Logistics Centre. Also known as the SuperPort. This article provides an overview about its goals, projects initiated, and potential opportunities for foreign investors.

ASLN – Enhanced Logistics in the ASEAN Region
Source: YCH Group

The ASLN serves as a platform which aims to promote logistics interconnectivity and integration within the member states of ASEAN. Moreover, it seeks to encourage the use of smart and sustainable logistics infrastructure. Also, the ASLN is a supportive means to ASEAN’s economic integration efforts and initiatives, such as the ASEAN Connectivity Master Plan 2025. A policy, which’s vision it is to connect and integrate ASEAN members seamlessly and comprehensively to promote competitiveness, inclusiveness, and finally a greater sense of community. Seamless logistics is one out of five strategic areas elaborated in the Master Plan. The area is focusing on two strategic objectives: lower supply chain costs and make the supply chains faster and more reliable in each ASEAN member state.

According to the Master Plan the previous initiatives have not reached the goals set in terms of logistics improvements. The reasons evaluated were named as a lack of coordination between government departments and sharing of best practices.

With the launch of the ASLN, the ASEAN is aiming to provide greater collaboration between logistics organizations, academic institutions, and the ASEAN member states with the shared goal of smart and sustainable growth.

Besides the ASEAN Connectivity Master Plan 2025, the ASLN is also assisting the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, and the ASEAN Integration Initiatives.

Vinh Phuc ICD Logistics Centre (SuperPort) in Vietnam
Source: Delco Construction

The inauguration of the ASLN was also the kickoff for its first logistics project in Vietnam. The SuperPort is going to be one of Vietnams largest logistics centers, which is situated in the northern province of Vinh Phuc near Hanoi. Not only will it serve as an inland transit point for domestic goods, imports, and exports. But also, as an inland container depot and a facilitator for customs clearance services for imports and exports.

The logistics center connects 20 industrial areas by road, rail, air, and sea. Furthermore, it is providing connectivity to the city of Hanoi, Hai Phong International Airport and China’s Yunnan Province, where the goods are transported via the Lao Cai border gate along the Hanoi-Lao Cai economic corridor.

The project is operated by the T&T Group of Vietnam and Singapore’s YCH Group. The investment made amounts to USD 166.68 million.

Phnom Penh Logistics Complex in Cambodia
Photo credit: Ministry of Public Works and Transport

The second project under the ASLN has been released by Cambodia’s Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and again by the YCH Group from Singapore.

The Phnom Penh Logistics Complex project will start in 2022 and follows the concept of the SuperPort in Vietnam. The costs for the logistics project are estimated at USD 200 million.

The aim is to build a state-of-the-art logistics complex, using latest technology to enhance resilience, visibility, and the process flow of the logistics. Moreover, it will feature a training academy and startup hub to train employees in the logistics sector of Cambodia.

Opportunities for Foreign Investors and Businesses

The Singaporean YCH Group is managing both ASLN projects by providing their expertise for the development of the logistics infrastructure. This example implicates the support needed from more developed countries to excel in the complex projects initiated.

Even though the main partners involved will be from the ASEAN region, foreign companies may contribute with consulting services, goods and services for the development of the logistics infrastructure, and with other kinds of collaboration. Furthermore, the funding of the projects might also be attractive for foreign investors who are or want to be involved in the ASEAN region.

Even if not directly engaged, these businesses will also profit from the implemented projects: greater integration within the ASEAN will lead to more efficient and faster logistics. This will benefit the trade in goods and services across the region and lower costs.


So far, two major projects have been launched under the ASLN, which is said to improve logistics in the ASEAN region significantly. With the expertise of the Singaporean YCH Group and the willingness to collaborate, these projects are most certainly going to succeed and implemented as planned. More sustainable projects will follow, and further improve logistics infrastructure, which will not only benefit the ASEAN member states and their businesses. New and attractive opportunities will emerge even for foreign companies and investors.



Theme and On-Site Trip Destinations

Theme and On-Site Trip Destinations

The world is a complex value chain, a network of organizations that works collaboratively to transfer products and services from producers to consumers. The conditions we have become accustomed to is inconceivable without an international supply chain. During the 7th edition of exploreASEAN we will dive into this complex world of global value chains and the positioning of ASEAN+ in those growing dynamics. Learn more about our theme and the destinations chosen for the on-site trip.

Over the last several years, ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) maintained strong and steady economic progress showing the enormous potential that lies in this region. As a result of closer economic and political collaboration – the establishment of trade agreements combined with the promotion of peace and stability – poverty declined significantly, and GDP rates grew rapidly.

During the 7th edition of exploreASEAN we will dive into the complex world of global value chains and the positioning of ASEAN+ in those growing dynamics. Herewith, we proudly present this year’s project theme:

ASEAN+ in the Global Value Chain: Gain and Sustain

The world is a complex value chain, a network of organizations that works collaboratively to transfer products and services from producers to consumers. The conditions we have become accustomed to is inconceivable without an international supply chain. Due to this reason, we want to dive into the intricate field of the global value chains and the positioning of ASEAN+ in those growing dynamics. Due to the rapid development, sustainable potential, and fast pace of innovation, the value chain of ASEAN+ is an exciting destination for tomorrow’s investors.

For this year’s edition we have incorporated South Korea in our project. The unprecedent inclusion of an ASEAN+ country was based on the growth and influence South Korea has gained in the global market in recent decades. South Korea’s economic success cannot be overlooked and therefore will be an exciting and remarkable addition to this years exploreASEAN.


Value chains exist to connect producers and consumers in an ongoing exchange of value. As a result, innovations in value chain drive innovations in the rest of the economy. According to a research conducted by the APEC Policy Support Unit, a 1% gain in logistics performance and competitiveness may result in a 3% boost in export growth. This fraction already shows the immense potential in the ASEAN market. Hence this project will investigate the position of ASEAN+ in the global value chain and how their role might be strengthened or challenged.


Value chains are to human civilization what oxygen is to life; when they work well, no one notices them. It is only when they start to fail that we realize there is a problem. Therefore, one can say that the value chain is an integral part of a company which is commonly faced with many challenges. Whether it is in the day-to-day operations or more significant adaptations like the transformational change, which are gaining on importance in the forthcoming years. The growing volatility in the business environment motivated us to explore the difficulties, innovations, and opportunities that might face ASEAN+ and how their competitiveness can be sustained in the constant evolving environment.

On-Site Trip Destinations

The journey of this year’s exploreASEAN edition will lead us to two founder nations of ASEAN – Singapore and Thailand – and to one of ASEAN’s main partners and ASEAN+ member state, South Korea.

Singapore – World-Class Global Connectivity

Thanks to state-of-the-art technology and a strong Free Trade Agreement network (25!) and a reliable, highly advanced, and efficient logistics and supply chain management hub, Singapore has one of the best logistics performances in the world and plays a crucial role in the global value chains.

Even in times of the pandemic, which severely disrupted supply chains, Singapore’s strong maritime performance could be relied upon. This is a clear indication of how it has strengthened its status as a global logistics center.

Thailand – ASEAN’s Manufacturing Hub

Manufacturing is one of the most important sectors of ASEAN second-largest economy Thailand. Therefore, it is not surprising that Thailand is one of the largest manufacturing hubs in Southeast Asia. The country produces a variety of goods such as textiles and apparel, footwear, electronics, machinery, including computers, automobiles and parts, gems, and rubber.

Thailand’s government currently is investing in four major infrastructure projects with the aim of transforming Thailand into a leading ASEAN investment and business center.

South Korea – ASEAN’s important trade partner

A country with big multinational corporations such as Samsung, LG or Hyundai has raised global importance in the value chain within the last few years. With its 17 Free Trade Agreements, including ASEAN, EFTA and EU, South Korea is a major international trading partner.

The country is looking to expand its presence in Southeast Asia and has recently launched talks with ASEAN to update its FTA. The recent Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement between the ASEAN and ASEAN+ member states is expected to reduce import and export costs significantly and will help facilitate international supply chains.

Today, ASEAN is the second-largest trading partner of South Korea.

The Current Pandemic Situation

Due to the current pandemic situation, our team is faced with planning uncertainties. As a result, we allow ourselves to keep the option open to visit other significant and relevant countries, which play a vital role in the global value chain if the prevailing restrictions make it impossible for us to complete our mission in the countries listed above. Possible alternative destinations are Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In the worst-case scenario, we might visit key European hubs in terms of the global value chain.