Southeast Asia exported roughly $1.3 trillion in goods in 2013, according to data from the International Trade Center (ITC). Across the region, the top five product export sectors were as follows:
Southeast Asia has a diverse array of economies, so the product export breakdown of each country varies significantly. While countries like Malaysia and Indonesia produce lots of palm oil, for example, Brunei produces virtually none. And while Vietnam and Cambodia have large garment manufacturing sectors, apparel is not one the top five export markets for the region.
Despite major differences between the economies, however, the region as a whole constitutes a powerhouse for global electronics production. In 2013, it exported $283.7 billion in electronics and electrical equipment. Although this pales in comparison to China, which exported $561.7 billion that same year, Southeast Asia as a region could be considered the second largest electronics exporter globally (the United States, second to China, only exported $165.6 in 2013).
Singapore, the region’s high-tech hub, was the leading exporter of electronics and electrical equipment in 2013. Its leading position can be attributed to its location as a major shipping hub in the region–roughly 2/3rds of total exports are not produced locally, but rather “re-exports” which have been imported from elsewhere and shipped off again without any kind of additional processing or assembly. In terms of actual electronics production, Singapore’s total output is comparable to that of Vietnam, a fast-growing provider of IT hardware.
After electronics and electrical equipment, mineral fuels and oils are the second largest product export sector in ASEAN. They generated $220.2 billion in 2013. Here again, Singapore leads the tables, but as a re-exporter and refiner, not a source country. Indonesia and Malaysia, which exported $57.4 and $50.8 billion that year, play a much bigger role than Singapore in global energy production. Brunei, the tiny sultanate on Borneo, exported $11 billion–less than Thailand but more than Vietnam. Across the region, energy exports are declining due to increased domestic consumption.
For machinery, ASEAN’s third-largest product export sector, Singapore also takes the top position due to its stature as a trading center, but Thailand is the region’s leading manufacturer. With $37 billion in machinery exports in 2013, was the world’s 12th biggest exporter in the sector that year. Malaysia, which exported $24 billion in 2013, is another big player. These two countries accounted for more than one third of ASEAN’s export value of machinery in 2013. Despite large quantities of machinery exports, ASEAN is still a net importer for machinery.
The vehicles sector, ASEAN’s fourth-largest product export market, is substantially smaller than the first three. Production is spread fairly widely throughout the region, with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore all contributing. Among them, Thailand surpasses other countries by a large margin, accounting for more than a half of the whole region’s export value in 2013. Overall, the region produces a diverse array of vehicles and vehicle parts, which helps it maintain a visible role in the world automotive market. However, to enhance the production and export of vehicles, the region must improve infrastructure and logistics services.
Plastics and plastics products are generated $39.3 billion in export revenues in 2013. Although ASEAN is aiming to be a global hub for plastics production, growth in this sector has been more subdued than in other sectors. Regional authorities seek to grow higher value-added plastics production sectors, but acknowledge that training and technology need to be improved first.