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US Beats China As ASEAN’s Top Export Market; Southeast Asia Gains Big From US, China Rivalry

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In a key shift in global trade dynamics, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) saw its exports to the United States surpass those to China for the first
time in six quarters.

This trend, reflecting changes in the global supply chain, highlights the growing importance of the US market for ASEAN countries amidst ongoing trade tensions and economic shifts.

According to data compiled by Nikkei Asia from ASEAN’s secretariat, individual governments, and local media, ASEAN exports to the US totaled $67.2 billion in the January-March quarter of 2024.

This figure surpassed the $57 billion in exports to China during the same period. Experts attribute this trend to the increasing US demand for semiconductors and electrical parts from ASEAN, contrasted with China’s slowing economy.

Malaysia exemplified this trend, with exports to the US increasing by 8% year-on-year, while exports to China decreased by 3.3%. An economist quoted in the Nikkei report pointed out that this shift is driven by both structural and cyclical factors.

Rising costs and political tensions, particularly the trade disputes between the US and China, are prompting American companies to relocate their procurement from China to other regions, including Malaysia.

Vietnam saw the most significant gain among ASEAN members, with exports to the US rising by 24% to $25.7 billion in the first quarter.

This surge is notable compared to Thailand’s $12.6 billion and Singapore’s $12.0 billion in US-bound exports. In 2023, the US accounted for 28% of Vietnam’s exports, whereas
China received 17%.

Thailand also experienced a notable shift, with first-quarter exports to China falling by 5.1% year-on-year. The decline affected various products, including natural rubber, tapioca, and fruit. In contrast, exports to the US increased by 9.8%, driven by agricultural and agro-industrial products.

A major factor in Thailand’s export performance was the decrease in auto exports, with the number of vehicles produced for export dropping by 5% to 273,680 units.

While ASEAN’s exports to China and Hong Kong combined totaled $69.4 billion in the first quarter of 2024, exceeding those to the US, the gap has narrowed significantly compared to previous years.

In the first quarter of 2021, ASEAN’s exports to China and Hong Kong were $86.4 billion, while exports to the US were $59 billion. This shift indicates a broader trend of ASEAN countries diversifying their export markets and reducing reliance on China.
Source: Nikkei Asia

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