APAC SMEs Bet Big on Southeast Asia’s Growth

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

FedEx Express (FedEx), in collaboration with Forbes Insights, has unveiled a comprehensive study underscoring Southeast Asia as the prime growth horizon for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) within the Asia Pacific (APAC) region.

The extensive survey, which encompassed 250 small and mid-sized business leaders from various industry sectors, revealed that a striking 68% of respondents project Southeast Asia—highlighting countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia—as the epicenter for potential expansion.

The optimism is fueled by economic growth, cultural connections, and the enhancement of regional trade deals.

Despite the robust growth outlook for ASEAN markets, APAC SMEs face significant challenges. The main obstacle to international trade has been identified as intricate customs procedures, overshadowing the task of cultivating new customer relationships and establishing international supply chains.

An overwhelming 88% of those surveyed are planning to expand their customer base globally within the next three years, yet find it more arduous to forge business relations outside the region, particularly with Europe and the Americas.

Kawal Preet, President of Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa at FedEx Express, highlighted the region’s rapid growth.

“Our data shows that economic headwinds and global competition are seen as the most pressing business challenges for Asia’s SMEs today. Despite the positive drive from intra-Asia trade, surmounting barriers to enter international markets remains a work in progress,” Preet noted.

He emphasized the role of companies like FedEx in easing the burden of customs complexities, allowing SMEs to focus on their core strengths.

Ross Gagnon, Executive Director of Research at Forbes Insights, reflected on the findings: “Collaborations that facilitate easier border compliance and close the digital divide are crucial for SMEs to achieve their international business goals.”

Digitization emerges as another key driver of growth, with customer experience ranking as the top business priority for 57% of the SMEs. While the commitment to digital advancement is evident, with only a 5% allocation of total annual IT budget, SMEs are grappling with the implementation of digital strategies, security concerns, and the financial impact of system upgrades.

Maribeth Espinosa, Managing Director at FedEx Express Philippines, underscored the opportunities this presents for local businesses: “The latest FedEx survey offers valuable insights for Philippine SMEs to enhance their services and venture into new markets. With FedEx’s support, local businesses are well-positioned to capitalize on the global marketplace and achieve sustainable digital-age growth.”

FedEx’s full report provides a deeper dive into these trends and is intended as a guiding tool for Asian SMEs plotting their paths to success. The report is available at fedex.com, where businesses can find detailed analyses and strategies to navigate the global business landscape effectively.