Malaysia’s scheduled announcement Friday of economic growth that’s forecast at 4.6% in the first quarter this year would reflect stronger shipments of integrated circuits thanks to improved global demand for high-tech goods as a well as more palm oil exports following a supply shortage. But there’s more. The well-off Southeast Asian country of 31 million people is often cited as one of the best places in Asia for foreign direct investment. Other Asian countries may miss that honor because of their costs of land and labor. Some, Japan for example, have a reputation for protectionist policies. Developing countries such as Cambodia lack transport infrastructure.
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Here are five countries typically described by business consultants, lenders and investors as the best places for foreigners to make investments in Asia:
- Malaysia. The country is one of the top recipients of foreign direct investment, reflected by an outsized 64% increase in foreign capital last year compared to 2015. The government of Prime Minister Najib Razak is considered pro-business. His country offers tax breaks on capital expenditures for R&D, exempts duties on imports used by high-tech firms and offers a 10-year tax break of up to 70% for companies in priority sectors such as tourism, manufacturing and technical training, Healy Consultants PLC says on its website. Malaysia isn’t Asia’s bargain basement, but prices are fair.
- Singapore. This modern city-state of 5.8 million people will cost you a bit, but it takes a free-port approach to inbound investment. The Southeast Asian financial hub lacks the corruption of other parts of Asia, meaning rules are enforced for rules’ sake. Foreign investors need not enter joint ventures. Singapore does not restrict repatriation of earnings, this U.S. government website notes. The judicial system that includes mediation and arbitration for foreign companies “upholds the sanctity of contracts, and decisions are transparent and effectively enforced,” the website says.
- Vietnam. Low land prices and minimum wages of just a couple dollars per day plus economic growth that looks to foreign factory investment equal keen interest among producers of an ever-widening range of stuff. Among the investors are Ford Motor, Intel and Samsung Electronics. Investors said in a 2010 survey they like Vietnam for the stability of its Communist regime, the consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers says. Fast improvements in transport infrastructure and attention to rule of law have also gained the trust of foreign capitalists despite periodic economic glitches such as a sudden drop in currency rates in 2011. The economy is also one of the fastest growing in Asia.
- Indonesia. Political stability of the world’s fourth largest country has also helped attract foreign capital, including a nearly 1% year-on-year increase in the first quarter of 2017. The archipelago of more than 10,000 islands comes with its own minerals as well as officials who the Asian Development Bank said this year “continue to announce policy reforms intended to ease red tape.” Investor tend to pursue mining and energy, plantations and financial services. A lot of tape got cut in 2007 with the “one-stop shop” policy that lets foreigners get business licenses in one place, meaning faster than before. The process can take just months, according to ChinaGoAbroad.com. Labor costs are low, as well, and the population is big enough that manufactured goods may be sold locally.
- India. Low wages and a young population — half of the 1.25 billion people are between ages 20 and 59 — put India on the board for a lot of would-be investors. The government’s focus since an economic crisis in 1991 to liberalize industries has steadily attracted a range of foreign firms to a nation that’s now growing around 7% per year. Investors are chasing automotive production, telecoms and bio-manufacturing, taking advantage of government incentives in some cases. The government in 2014 created a pro-investor “Make in India” scheme that opened 25 sectors to foreign capital. Capital inflows grew 46% over the following year and in 2015-16 India recorded is highest ever direct investment inflow, $55.5 billion.