SINGAPORE - South-east Asian markets continue to remain important to United States businesses, as a poll of 210 business executives in the region showed an increasing percentage expecting profits to increase compared with two years ago.
The sectors in Singapore identified by the latest annual Asean Business Outlook Survey as the most promising for US businesses were banking and finance, followed by software, IT and telecommunications; e-commerce/digital/online retail; consulting; and pharmaceuticals/medical.
"The US business community in Singapore is still very confident in the growing potential for trade and investment in the region as a whole," said the report, which highlighted that almost 100 per cent of Singapore respondents indicate that their companies' level of trade and investment have either risen or held steady in the past two years.
This is despite American companies in Asean feeling the effect of the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017 and the current economic uncertainty caused by Sino-US trade tensions.
Forty-six per cent of respondents across Asean said the Americans' punitive trade actions against China would trigger negative consequences on their operations.
Results of the survey, which was conducted from April to June last year by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (AmCham Singapore), were released on Wednesday (March 13).
More than half of those surveyed were business executives who have been operating in Asean for 20 years or more.
Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan addressed the membership of AmCham Singapore during the launch of the survey at InterContinental Singapore hotel on Wednesday.
He pointed to the US$20 billion (S$27 billion) trade surplus the US has against Singapore and the fact that the Republic is its largest trading partner in South-east Asia.
"For us we are not focused purely on the bilateral deficit number," said Dr Balakrishnan. "But on the fact that we are part of a global value chain and these liberal economic arrangements have generated jobs, enhanced competitiveness and maintained relevance for us as well as generated jobs in the US," he added, pointing out that American foreign direct investment in Singapore stands at US$242 billion.
He also said the US should continue to be engaged and to play a leadership role even amid a transition to a multipolar world.
He said: "And I want to emphasise that the American private sector... (should) continue to take the lead in advocating a sustained US presence throughout Asia."
Singapore remains a valuable regional hub for American companies - more than half (58 per cent) of the respondents in Singapore plan to expand their operations locally. On the other hand, Vietnam was identified by respondents across Asean as the top country for further expansion.
AmCham Singapore chairman Dwight Hutchins said the survey points towards Asean being a favourable investment destination, even as the business environment remains difficult against the backdrop of uncertainty and trade headwinds.
"American business leaders here still see growth prospects, and US businesses are pushing ahead," he said.
"They are right to have their capital hubs in Singapore to take advantage of the opportunities in the region."