U.S. companies eye post-pandemic shift to Southeast Asia

Thailand and its neighbors in Southeast Asia are looking more attractive to American and other companies with factories or offices in China, as they rethink where they want to locate or do business because of the pandemic, according to a report in the Straits Times of Singapore.

“Companies definitely evaluate how countries are managing COVID -19 risk as they make investment decisions in the current environment. In particular, transparency in government response is critical,” Kellie Meilman Hock, managing partner at global consultancy McLarty Associates, told the paper.

After some initial skepticism, most analysts believe Thailand has been open and transparent in its reporting and response to the pandemic. The Kingdom has about 3,000 documented coronavirus cases and fewer than 60 deaths, despite having recorded the first case outside of China in early January.

Public health officials have not conducted widespread surveillance testing. But, “if many people were dying of respiratory distress in our hospitals, we would not be able to hide that,” Dr. Tanarak Plipat, deputy director of the Bureau of Epidemiology, told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, recently.

Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit, political economists who have written several books on Thailand, agree, saying the country’s doctors and public health professionals would not keep quiet or participate in a cover-up.

Hock said companies can’t afford another disruption of the kind the pandemic has produced. “Countries that can show evidence of good governance in tough times like this will be considered more favorably,” she said.

Marc Mealy, senior vice-president at the US-ASEAN Business Council (USABC) in Washington D.C., told the Straits Times that despite voices calling for companies to leave China and to manufacture more goods in America, not everything could be made in the U.S.

“That fits into ASEAN’s (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) interests because ASEAN is a viable commercial supply chain location,” he said. Aside from costs and efficiency, companies will now consider how resilient a country is when choosing whether or not to locate there.

Thailand does have a record of resilience, having rebounded from economic crises in 1997 and 2008 and achieved robust growth in the aftermaths of those events.

Photo courtesy of https://www.usasean.org/