Governments across ASEAN have been unveiling an array of incentive packages to entice businesses affected by the US-China trade war.
Countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia have introduced tax breaks and initiatives to improve the ease of doing business whereas Vietnam, Singapore, and Cambodia have accelerated business reforms, such as executing free trade agreements (FTAs), and double taxation agreements (DTAs).
We consolidate and briefly discusses the development of each country’s incentives over the past year. The developments showcase how ASEAN members are distinguishing themselves from the fellow competition and what opportunities are available for investors looking elsewhere in Asia.
Thailand introduced a stimulus package called Thailand Plus that covers seven key points which include the introduction of new tax incentives and deductions.
Thailand already offers investors corporate income tax (CIT) exemptions through the Eastern Economic Corridor, but Thailand Plus allows companies to be eligible for further reductions if they invest at least 1 billion baht (US$32 million) and apply for the incentive before 2020.
Investors that are developing advanced technology, engaging in automation systems, or employ highly-skilled individuals in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), can receive tax deductions of up to 200 percent.
Additionally, the government will amend the main law regulating foreign business activities to simplify the process of acquiring visas and work permits and to improve information sharing between the government and relevant state agencies.
Thailand will endeavor to expand its FTA network under Thailand Plus, reviving the Thailand-EU FTA and joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Moreover, special investment zones for companies from South Korea, Japan, China, and the US will be developed.
Foreign investors with a foothold in the country, especially in high-value manufacturing sectors like electronics, automotive, aerospace, and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) services, could benefit from this latest package.
The Philippines’ CITIRA, and legislative amendments
In September 2019, the Philippines introduced the Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act (CITIRA). CITIRA will gradually reduce CIT from 30 percent to 20 percent over a ten-year period as well as rationalize specific tax incentives. The current CIT of 30 percent is the highest in ASEAN.
The Act is the second phase of the government’s Comprehensive Tax Reform Package program and aims to increase foreign investment, stimulate job growth, and enable domestic small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to be more regionally competitive.
Under CITIRA, the government will also develop new priority regions beyond the National Capital Region, Metro Manila. Investments outside this region could help the country develop its infrastructure and supply chains to compete more readily with other ASEAN countries.
To further encourage foreign investment, lawmakers amended two provisions of the Foreign Investment Act (FIA) of 1991.
The amendments include the removal of the ‘practice of professionals’ from the foreign investment negative list (FINL). This was done to attract more skilled foreign professionals. The other amendments aim to reduce the number of mandatory direct local hires by foreign investors from 50 to 15 and to allow foreign investors to have 100 percent ownership of SMEs.
The government also revized the Public Service Act and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act. The formerly opened utility sectors like telecommunications and transportation to foreign investors. The latter set the minimum paid-up capital at US$200 thousand for foreign businesses looking to invest in the country’s retail industry.
Malaysia’s budget, investment fast track
Read More : Trade War Incentive Schemes in ASEAN
Assessing the economic impacts of COVID-19 on ASEAN countries
All ASEAN countries are dependent on tourism flows but Thailand is probably the most dependent.
Author: Jayant Menon, ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a human tragedy. Measures introduced to deal with the pandemic could save lives but are having wide-ranging economic effects and inducing economic contagion.
There are already studies estimating the economic impact of the virus. But greater focus is needed on the transmission mechanisms of the economic contagion and in critiquing how assessments of the economic impacts are made, concentrating on the ASEAN region.
The effects of COVID-19 are hitting ASEAN economies at a time when other risk factors, such as a global growth slowdown, were already rising.
COVID-19 is disrupting tourism and travel, supply chains and labour supply
Uncertainty is driving negative sentiment. This all affects trade, investment and output, which in turn affects growth. Tourism and business travel, as well as related industries, especially airlines and hotels, were the first to be affected. And the conditions are worsening as more countries go into shutdown.
The supply disruptions emanating mostly from China will reverberate throughout the value chain and disrupt production. Since China is the regional hub and accounts for 12 per cent of global trade in parts and components, the cost of the disruption in the short run will be high.
The negative effects of quarantine arrangements on labour supply could also be high depending on duration and sector. Manufacturing has been hit harder than service industries, where telecommuting and other technological aids limit the fall in productivity.
All these disruptions will lead to sharp declines in domestic demand. And their impact on economic growth will further propagate these disruptions. This compounding effect can magnify and extend short-run effects into the long run.
The highest economic cost could come from the intangibles
The effects of negative sentiment about growth and general uncertainty — which is already affecting financial markets — will feed into reduced investment, consumption and growth in the long run.
Rolling recessions around the world now appear inevitable, despite the stimulus measures being contemplated. If so, there will be sharp increases in unemployment and poverty. Some degree of decoupling from China, or de-globalisation in general, may also be a permanent reminder of this pandemic.
Among ASEAN countries, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are heavily integrated in regional supply chains and will be the most affected by a reduction in demand for the goods produced within them. Indonesia and the Philippines have been increasing supply chain engagement and will also not be immune.
Vietnam is the only new ASEAN member integrated into supply chains with China and is already suffering severe supply disruptions.
Given time, supply-side adjustments will alter trade and investment patterns. The main adjustment will involve relocating certain activities along the supply chain from China to ASEAN countries. Although the pandemic will disrupt the relocation phase, ASEAN countries can benefit from the new investments, mitigating overall negative impacts.
Thailand is probably the most tourism dependent Asean country
All ASEAN countries are dependent on tourism flows but Thailand is probably the most dependent. Cambodia and Laos receive most of their investment and aid from China, and a marked growth slowdown in China will affect them the most.
The Philippines and Mekong countries have large overseas foreign worker populations and restrictions on their movement or employment prospects as COVID-19 spreads will affect sending and receiving countries. Brunei and Malaysia are net oil exporters and the price war indirectly induced by the pandemic will hit them hard. Others will benefit from lower oil prices, as will the struggling transport sector.
In measuring the impacts of COVID-19, it is important to separate its marginal impact from observed outcomes. This is important because the remedy may vary depending on the cause of the disruption. This requires an analytical framework that can measure deviations from a baseline scenario that incorporates pre-existing trends. A model-based analysis, rather than casual empiricism, is required to reduce the problem.
Even before the outbreak, risks of a global growth slowdown were rising
The restructuring of regional supply chains had started, driven initially by rising wages in China and accelerated by the US–China trade war. While COVID-19 may further hasten the pace and extent of the restructuring, it is only partly responsible for what may happen. It would be misleading to attribute all of the current disruption to COVID-19. Had the trade war not preceded it, COVID-19 may have resulted in greater disruption to supply chains.
Any assessment of impacts must recognise that the spread of COVID-19 is unpredictable, and so too the response by governments. It is difficult to estimate the impacts of a shock that is uncertain in itself. This reiterates the need for rigorous modelling and scenario analyses. The current trend points to risks rising, often accelerating, as with previous epidemics. This uncertainty underscores the need for caution in assessing, and regular recalibration in producing assessments.
Jayant Menon is a Visiting Senior Fellow in the Regional Economic Studies Programme at the ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore.
A version of this article first appeared in ISEAS Commentary.
This article is part of an EAF special feature series on the novel coronavirus crisis and its impact.
Coronavirus’ economic impact in East and Southeast Asia
The ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO) estimates that the COVID-19 epidemic could deduct as much as half a percentage point from the economic growth of some regional economies in 2020.
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