The creation of the ASEAN Economic Community last year has paved the way for SMEs to expand across the region. The economic bloc unites ASEAN's 10 member states, creating a massive US$2.6 trillion market with 622 million people. The free movement of goods, services, skilled labour, capital and investment is expected to trigger massive growth, more than 5.3 percent above baseline growth within five years, according to Deloitte.
This all means big opportunities for small business. As the governor of Malaysia's central bank Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz said: “SMEs in the region are no longer constrained by national borders.”
Make a five-year plan and look long-term
To benefit from the AEC, small businesses now need to make plans based on the actions in the ASEAN Strategic Action Plan for SME Development (SAPSMED) 2016-2025.
Your plans should include two phases. The first five-year phase needs to focus on integrating your business into the AEC and regional value chains. Phase two charts your path to global expansion, with measures to make your business globally competitive, innovative and resilient.
The idea is that growing within ASEAN initially can help your business achieve the scale and efficiency needed to compete in the global marketplace. For help getting started, check out the country guides at the online ASEAN Market Place, which provide information on business environments and regulations across ASEAN.
Partner with other SMEs
Next, you can explore partnering with other small business to collaborate and facilitate growth. Partnerships are being prioritised because small businesses are considered to perform better when they're allied with other SMEs.
You can find potential partners in your industry across ASEAN using the directory at the ASEAN Market Place. More than 20,000 businesses are expected to list there this year.