Opportunities in Asia are not limited to just the two economic powerhouses China and India, says Minister of Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang.

He said Asean, with a combined population of 600 million and total GDP behind only China and Japan within Asia, can be both an attractive end-market as well as a prime investment location for companies.

“In a recent Deloitte study, it is predicted that five of the top 15 manufacturing locations in the world will be in Asean by 2018.

“And companies are beginning to recognise the potential of Asean. In 2012, the region attracted seven times more Foreign Direct Investment per capita than India, and almost the same amount as China,” he said in his address at the Unilever’s Partner to Win Supplier Summit 2013 at Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre here Thursday.

Nonetheless, Lim said, Asean still has a lot of work to do in order to realise its full economic potential.

“We will need to tackle structural challenges and pursue regulatory reforms, so as to deepen our economic linkages and ensure that growth is sustainable across the region,” he said.

In this regard, Lim said Asean countries are looking into regional integration seriously, through the Asean Economic Community, or AEC, 2015 plan.

A key principle underpinning the AEC is the free flow of goods, services and investments within the region, which will open up more opportunities for companies.

“We have already achieved significant progress. For example, virtually all goods in Asean already move throughout the region tariff-free. The Asean Comprehensive Investment Agreement also entered into force in March last year. This Agreement has established stronger, pro-business rules, to provide enhanced investment protection for both Asean and foreign-owned investments based in Asean,” he said.

Beyond regional integration, Lim noted Asean is also committed to strengthening its ties with external partners.

“We are negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which will include all of Asean’s current Free Trade Agreement partners, representing almost half of the world’s population and a third of the world’s GDP.

“We believe that such efforts will strengthen Asean’s value proposition and make the region an even more attractive location for businesses.

“Asean will become an even more dynamic and attractive base for companies as it grows together as a single market and production location,” he said.