The Associations of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967 with five nation members: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Later on, Brunei Darussalam (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos (1997), Myanmar (1997) and Cambodia (1999) joined the association. ASEAN was established to accelerate economic growth and promote regional peace and stability, while enhancing cooperation on economic, social, cultural, technical, and educational matters. Since its founding, ASEAN’s economic integration progress has been affected by various factors. As a largely voluntary organization with an economically and politically diverse membership, ASEAN has followed a slow step-by-step approach in changing regional cooperation in order to make it more legally binding with institutionalized agreementsi. Certain external events, such as Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) involving ASEAN’s important trading partners, have stimulated faster integration among member countries.
Figure 1: ASEAN History
Source: European ASEAN Business Centre, 2012ii
With a total area of 4.44 million square kilometers and a population of 629 millioniii, ASEAN was able to reach a total regional GDP of US$3.8 trillion in 2013. Per capita regional GDP reached $US12,441 and regional GDP growth was 5.2%. The highest GDP for a participating member was Indonesia (USD$1.285 trillion), followed by Thailand (US$674.3 billion) and Malaysia (US$525 billion). The highest per capita GDP was achieved by Singapore (US$54,775.53), followed by Brunei Darussalam (US$39,942.52) and Malaysia (US$10,547.97). All member countries achieved a per capita GDP higher than US$1,000, with only four country members attaining a 6% or higher GDP growth rate. Lao PDR attained the highest GDP growth in the region (8.3%).
According to the World Bank’s classification of country economies according to incomes (low, low middle, upper middle, and high), Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar and Vietnam– collectively called CLMV countries - are categorized as lower-income countries. Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines are in the upper middle-income bracket. Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia are high-income countriesiv.
Figure 2: The World Bank’s Classification of Country Economies
Source: ASEAN Secretariat, 2012
Facts and Figures
ASEAN Population and Development Indicators
With a total estimated population of more than 629 million people living in 10 countries across ASEAN, the highest population concentrations are found in Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar. As seen on the table below, ASEAN countries generally enjoy a high literacy rate.
Table 1: ASEAN’s GDP, Population and Literacy Rate
GDP per capita (US$)
Source: International Monetary Fund and CIA, 2014v
Labor force and unemployment
The labor market landscape in ASEAN is characterized by large gaps between member states. In 2012, the largest labor markets were Indonesia (118 million workers), followed by Vietnam (52 million workers) and the Philippines (40 million workers).
In terms of unemployment rate, the Philippines has the highest percentage (17.9 %), while Indonesia occupies second place with 5.92%, followed by Myanmar with 5.2%.
Table 2: ASEAN’s Labor Force and Unemployment in Thousands
ASEAN Member States
Lao People’s Democratic Republic
ASEAN Total in 2012
Source: ADB, 2014vi
Figure 3: Unemployment Rate in 2013
Source: Governmental sources and public information, 2014vii
Minimum Wages in the ASEAN Region
Singaporean and Malaysian workers may enjoy better living standards and conditions of work and life, as they receive an average daily income of around US$106 and US$23 in 2011, in comparison to other ASEAN member states. However, per country data provided by ILO ranging from 2008 to 2011 shows that working conditions in Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam have improved.
Minimum wages are only one of the elements to be considered when deciding the best ASEAN country location in which to base a business or a manufacturing facility. There are many other factors that should be taken into account, such as taxes and licenses, land issues, or increases in electricity and gas tariffs.[iv]
Table 3: Average Monthly Wages
Real average wages in local currency units
Real average wages in USD*
Real average daily wages in USD*
Singapore Dollar (SGD)
Source: ILO, 2014ix
ASEAN Key Economics
ASEAN countries can be categorized into 3 different groups based on key economic sectors that contribute to their GDP.
Table 4: ASEAN’s Key Economic Sectors
Major Industries: Petroleum, refining, ship, repair, offshore platform, financial services, trading, consumer electronics, information technology products and services, and pharmaceuticals
Major industries: tourism, petroleum and liquefied natural gas, electronics equipment, textiles, chemicals, wood and wood products, agriculture processing, palm oil, rubber, tin mining, and logging
Major industries: tourism, healthcare, automobiles and parts, textiles and garments, electrical appliances, computers, IC, plastics, cement, jewelry, furniture, agricultural processing, fishery products, rice, rubber, tobacco, tungsten
Major industries: IT services, semiconductors and electronic products, transport equipment, pharmaceuticals, garments, footwear, copper, petroleum products, coconut oil, fruits, food processing, fishing
Major Industries: tourism, oil and gas, electrical appliances, plywood, textiles and apparel, footwear, mining, cement, chemical fertilizers, food and rubber
Major industries: garments, shoes, machine building, mining, coal, steel, cement, chemical fertilizer, glass, tires, oil, mobile phones, electronics, wooden products, food processing and rice
Agriculture –and – resource – oriented
Major industries: tourism, construction, garments, mining of copper, tin, gold, and gypsum, timber, wood products, coffee, agricultural processing, cement, rubber, and electric power
Major industries: tourism, garments, textiles, footwear, construction, wood and wood products, gem mining, cement, fishing, rice, tobacco and rubber
Major industries: oil and natural gas, garments, wood and wood products, copper, tin, tungsten, iron, cement, construction materials, jade and gems, agricultural processing, pulses, beans, fish, rice
Major industries: petroleum refining, petroleum, liquefied natural gas, construction, garments
Source: European ASEAN Business Centre, 2012
ASEAN's Natural Resources
In ASEAN, there is a connection between natural resources and key economic sectors that significantly impact on each Member State’s economic growth.
Table 5: ASEAN’s Natural Resources
Fish, deepwater ports
Tin, petroleum, timber, copper, iron ore, natural gas, bauxite
Despite the richness of natural resources, the ASEAN region is an extremely diverse and disparate area, with differences in the scale and patterns of energy use and energy resource endowments. As reported, Indonesia is the largest energy user in the region, where, for instance, 36% of the national market alone consumes 66% more energy than Thailand (the second largest user) and over 50 times more overall energy than Brunei (which has the lowest consumptionxi).
Sources and References
i USITC. ASEAN: Regional Trends in Economic Integration, Export Competitiveness, and inbound Investment for Selected Industries. 2010. p. 2-1
ii EABC. 2013. Compact Guide to the ASEAN Economic Community (EAC). 2012. p-1