Manila, November 12:

Despite a potential market of some 600 million people, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region is still largely untapped by the international business community, business leaders say. In the four years from 2001 to 2005 some 50 billion flowed into the ASEAN region compared to 274 billion to China, according to the Manila-based Asian Development Bank. Total net foreign direct investment (FDI) into the region last year amounted to $23.9 billion of which 60 per cent went to the island state of Singapore.

“Compare this to the $60 billion invested in China last year and you get some idea what the region is up against,” says economist and president of the Philippine Business Leaders Forum, Michael Clancy.

“Business has failed to focus on the opportunities that a common ASEAN market will create,” Clancy said. ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Clancy’s group, which is a country associate of the Economist Intelligence Unit, will manage this year’s ASEAN Business and Investment Summit (ASEAN-BIS) in Cebu next month. Established four years ago by the ASEAN leaders it now forms an integral part of the annual summit. Donald Dee, head of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and national host of the ASEAN-BIS said, “ASEAN is on the way to becoming a common market of almost 600 million consumers.” He said structural changes put in place in recent years coupled with the quickening pace and political integration is making the region an attractive investment destination with its young and growing population.