Emerging Asia, which includes China, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, is expected to remain one of the most enticing emerging market regions within the next two decades, given their favourable demographic profile, strong consumer class development, digital transformation, rapid urbanisation and technological adoption.
The common thread running across this diverse region is a rising trajectory of key social and economic indicators. During the past two decades, emerging markets in Asia have outpaced other emerging economies, with India, China, Cambodia and Vietnam experiencing an annual average of real GDP growth of more than 6% between 2000 and 2020.
And although emerging Asia still has a long way to go to catch up to established countries, we believe the region’s long-term prospects will remain positive as developing Asian markets focus on rebuilding, modernising, and regaining their growth momentum. This guide lists the top seven emerging markets in Asia you should pay close attention to if you want to expand into this region.
Top emerging markets in Asia in numbers
The following table provides an overview of the major economic ratings mentioned in the article:
|Country||GDP by country (US$ million) (2022)||Ease of doing business (2020)||Global Competitiveness Report (2019)||Global Innovation Index (2021)|
China has the world’s largest market-oriented emerging economy, incorporating economic management through industrial regulations and strategic five-year initiatives. The Chinese economy consists of government-owned enterprises, mixed-ownership businesses, and a vast private sector. It’s also open to foreign businesses.
The government initiated economic reforms in 1978, which led China to become the fastest-growing major economy in the world, with average growth rates of over 10% during the last 30 years.
In 2021, China’s GDP was US$17.7 trillion (114.4 trillion yuan), growing by 8.1 % in yuan terms from the previous year, thus surpassing the European Union. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China’s GDP (nominal) and GDP (PPP) per capita income ranked 59th and 73rd, respectively, in 2020.
China is ranked 28th in the Global Competitiveness Report and 31st in the Ease of Doing Business Index among the “very easy” countries. The country was also placed 12th in the Global Innovation Index in 2021, third in Asia & Oceania, and second among nations with a population of over 100 million. It is the only middle-income and newly industrialised economy in the top 30.
China is set to become an even more influential international player in the coming years. According to an estimate, China will overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy in nominal GDP by 2028. To achieve this, the Asian superpower lays out its intentions in its current five-year plan, which include accelerating technical development, stimulating private investment, and increasing the significance of domestic consumption. Inflation is likely to remain low, permitting a more accommodative monetary policy.
India’s establishment as an emerging market came after trade globalisation and other significant economic reforms of 1991, and since then, the Indian economy has been steadily rising at comparatively high rates. In the previous decade, it averaged 7.1%, with occasional fluctuations caused by severe socio-economic challenges.
Today, India is the world’s sixth-largest economy in terms of nominal GDP (Rs. 232.15 trillion / US$ 3.12 trillion), third-largest in terms of purchasing power parity, and, according to the Department of Economic Affairs data, India’s foreign exchange reserves reached US$ 634.287 billion as of January 28, 2022. According to several analyses, India’s growth rate will stabilise at 8% over the next few decades, thus making it the world’s fastest-growing economy.
This exceptional country’s long-term economic growth is primarily due to the expansion of the service and manufacturing sectors, fuelled by exports and foreign investment, a young and steadily growing working-age population, and a rapidly expanding middle class resulting in a continued consumer market expansion.
India is expected to become the third-largest consumer economy by 2025, with consumption predicted to triple to US$ 4 trillion due to a change in consumer behaviour and spending patterns, according to a Boston Consulting Group estimate. It is also likely to surpass the United States as the world’s second-largest economy in purchasing power parity (PPP) by 2040.
Indonesia’s emerging market economy with its fairly complex financial systems, rich and diverse natural resources, controlled inflation, political stability and surging, youthful population figures prominently on investors’ radars. It’s easy to see why: a country with over 277 million people, a GDP growth rate of around 5% per year, and an ample and growing middle-class consumer market is an appealing prospect.
Indonesia was heavily damaged by the Asian financial crisis in 1997, both politically and economically; however, it has achieved significant progress since then. It is now Southeast Asia’s largest economy and a member of the G20, where it is the third fastest-growing economy following only India and China.
Over the past few decades, the country’s economy shifted from being heavily reliant on agriculture to a more balanced economy that reduces its historical reliance on primary exports. The main key driver of the economy is the private domestic consumption that is stimulated by a large market with a growing middle class of almost 70 million people (55 % of GDP).
Indonesia’s economic planning is based on a 20-year development strategy that spans from 2005 to 2025. It’s divided into five-year medium-term development plans, each with its priorities. Its main objective is to further increase Indonesia’s economy by enhancing its human capital and global competitiveness. The country is also predicted to become the world’s 4th largest economy by 2045, with an expected income per capita of US$29,000.
Malaysian emerging economy is one of the wealthiest in Asia, despite its relatively small population of about 32 million people. Malaysia’s GDP ranks fourth among ASEAN countries, and its per capita income of US$ 12,295 qualifies it as an upper-middle-income country, according to the World Bank. Malaysia is geographically located in the middle of ASEAN, surrounded by the nine other member nations.
Since gaining its independence in 1957, Malaysia’s economy has effectively diversified from commodity-based and agriculture to one that currently features robust manufacturing and service sectors, propelling the country to become a prominent exporter of electrical appliances, components, and parts.
Today Malaysia has one of the world’s most open economies, with a trade-to-GDP ratio of more than 130 % since 2010. The country’s openness to trade and investment has played a key role in job creation and income growth, with around 40% of Malaysia’s jobs linked to export operations. Malaysia also boasts one of the greatest living standards in Southeast Asia and a low unemployment rate of 4.7% (IMF, October 2021).
Malaysia is on a path to becoming a high-income nation by 2024. The new development plan presents a way toward advanced economy status and greater inclusivity through a wide range of development objectives such as equity, inclusivity, environmental sustainability, infrastructure, and human capital development.
Thailand has an emerging free-market economy, the second-largest in Southeast Asia, with a nominal GDP of roughly USD 500 billion. The Kingdom has a robust domestic market and a growing middle class, with the private sector serving as the main growth engine. Thailand’s economy is well integrated into the global market, with exports accounting for more than 70% of GDP. The country also has a large industrial sector (40% of GDP) and a strong and growing services sector (50% of GDP), mainly focused on tourism and financial services.
Given the importance of exports to Thailand, the country has been a regional leader in trade facilitation and liberalisation, particularly with its Asian neighbours. Thailand is an important member of the ASEAN, with a strategic location that offers easy access to a large market of over 660 million people, forming a community of interconnectivity, a production base, and a single market. Additionally, Thailand’s easy access to China and India, and many other East Asian countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea, expand this already vast consumer market to even more significant proportions.
Thailand’s good relations and growing network of free trade agreements with other countries have increased trade access to markets both within and outside the region. Together with the Kingdom’s strategic location, these factors have made it a regional hub for international trade and travel, as well as a centre for a variety of industries, the most noteworthy of which are the automotive and agriculture. Thailand has been favoured by numerous enterprises, media companies, and international organisations due to its favourable investment climate, open society, and entrepreneurial spirit.
Looking to the future, Thailand’s Royal Government has outlined a 20-year plan to achieve high-income status by 2036. The plan includes a wide range of top-down initiatives, particularly in infrastructure and human capital, to transform Thailand into an innovative, value-based economy focusing on 12 areas like automation and robotics, biofuel and biochemicals, aviation and logistics, and digital.
The Philippines 🇵🇭
The Philippines is one of the world’s fastest-growing emerging markets. According to the International Monetary Fund, the Philippines’ economy was the world’s 32nd largest by nominal GDP in 2021, the 12th largest in Asia, and the third-largest in ASEAN after Indonesia and Thailand.
Business activities are robust, with a strong performance in the services sector, including real estate, business process outsourcing, and the finance and insurance sectors. With growing urbanisation, an expanding middle class, and a vast and young population, the country’s economic vitality is based on strong consumer demand supported by a vibrant labour market and substantial remittances.
The growth momentum is bolstered by strong economic fundamentals and an internationally recognised competitive workforce. With an average annual growth rate of 6.4 % between 2010 and 2019 and up from 4.5% between 2000 and 2009, the country is on its path to becoming an upper-middle-income country in the near future.
AmBisyon 2040, the Philippine government’s twenty-five-year long-term vision, lays out the country’s growth path in detail. It emphasises the importance of relevant, inclusive, and long-term economic growth. Per capita income must increase by at least three-fold during the next 25 years (until 2040). And as the result of these strategic actions, the Philippines’ economy is expected to become the fourth largest in Asia and the 19th largest globally by 2050.
Vietnam is another one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. The shift in labour allocation from agriculture to manufacturing and services is attributed to the country’s rapid economic growth. Private investment, robust tourism, higher earnings, and increased urbanisation helped Vietnam’s development.
The country’s GDP growth increased to a 10-year high of 7.1% and 7.02% in 2019, then fell due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but remained positive in 2020 and 2021 with 2.9 % and 3.8 %, respectively. According to the recent IMF forecast (October 2021), GDP growth in Vietnam is predicted to reach 6.6% in 2022 and 6.8% in 2023, subject to post-pandemic global economic recovery.
Vietnam’s economy is primarily based on state-owned sectors such as textiles, furniture, food, plastics, paper, tourism and telecommunications. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Vietnam had already established itself as a favoured destination for offshore manufacturing.
Now that the pandemic has disrupted global supply chains, the exodus of manufacturers from China has increased, Vietnam stands to benefit from this tendency even more and has a solid potential to attract FDI and boost its manufacturing capability even further.
Vietnam’s GDP growth is expected to be slower over 2021-2040 compared to the previous decades, but the country’s economy is well-positioned to remain a strong performer. Vietnam’s solid economic foundations will continue to support long-term economic growth: favourable demographics, a robust export manufacturing sector, and the country’s potential to become Asia’s next production powerhouse.
Cambodia is an accessible and highly open emerging market that has experienced remarkable economic transformation and growth over the past two decades. It has continuously been regarded as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, with GDP growing by 7% in 2019.
Cambodia’s rapid development from agricultural subsistence to a market-based, lower-middle-income economy was fuelled by strong growth in the textile, garment, and footwear sectors and tourism and construction.
Among many of Cambodia’s competitive advantages are its young population, cost-effective labour force, the strategic location right between Vietnam and Thailand and favourable tariff access. This allows the country to engage in global value chains, with companies adopting ‘Plus one’ production practices to complement existing operations in neighbouring countries and benefit from Cambodia’s free trade access and low-cost production. International enterprises are also entering the market to target the increasing middle class in Phnom Penh with high-end shopping and services.
Cambodia aims to achieve upper-middle-income economy status by 2030 and high-income economy status by 2050. To achieve this, the Royal Government of Cambodia has undertaken various steps to assist in faster capital market development. The infrastructure and support Cambodia requires for long-term growth will be provided by educating both investors and corporations, introducing audit requirements and accounting standards, and licensing market players such as fund management companies, custodian banks, and securities brokers, to name a few.
The emerging markets in Asia have recorded strong and stable growth over the past few decades. They have increased their macroeconomic flexibility, continued to industrialise, urbanise, integrate into the global economy and have experienced favourable demographic developments. In the future, these advancements will continue to create high-growth opportunities for businesses and investors across Asia.
And despite facing several challenges, such as the risk of volatility, emerging Asia’s growth is projected to remain strong while providing valuable access to rapidly expanding production and consumer networks.
If you require assistance in setting up a business in Asia, contact Acclime to support you throughout the process.