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Four countries global companies should enter, expand, or invest in

India, Indonesia, and Vietnam are challenging China’s global manufacturing dominance and emerging as leading contenders for global firms seeking to produce goods in Asia. Within the European Union (EU), Poland, the fifth largest manufacturing country, is serving as an attractive alternative and nearshoring destination for Western companies choosing to establish or relocate production plants.

India, on track to become the world’s third largest economy by 2027, Indonesia, ASEAN’s largest economy, projected to become the world’s sixth largest economy by 2027, Vietnam, positioned to see the sharpest increase in wealth growth in the world over the next decade, and the UK’s Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, warning that Poland is on course to overtake the British economy by the end of this decade, are cogent indicators that these countries present tremendous opportunities for multinational corporations to enter, establish, expand, or invest in.

Given that S&P Global Ratings expect India to remain the fastest-growing major economy for the next three years, Indonesia attracted US$47.34 billion in foreign direct investment last year, the world’s largest chip maker and the third most valuable company in the US, Nvidia, has announced plans to expand its operations in Vietnam, and Poland lies at the centre of Europe – on the main trade route or transport corridor linking Europe with Asia, these compelling cues highlight the need for increased attention and focus on these nations from global companies and their CEOs, CFOs and treasurers.

While political stability in a country does not guarantee economic progress, a stable political environment can be a deal breaker for a global corporation looking to enter, establish, expand, or invest in a location, country, or region to fuel financial growth. Enduring political stability, a clear advantage offered by India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Poland is another driving force for doing business in these sovereign states.

Besides the considerations outlined above, there are additional reasons for actively seeking out and capitalizing on business opportunities in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Poland.

With payments becoming the centrepiece of corporate finance and treasury, CFOs and treasurers are making a continued shift toward investing in modernizing payments. One of the most important pillars of payments modernization is widespread adoption of real-time payments (RTPs) as a part of a larger digital payments transformation agenda.

India, powered by its homegrown real-time payment system, has established itself as a global leader in instant payments. This robust real-time payments system, the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), has not only helped India become a digital payment powerhouse, but has also set a benchmark for payment players worldwide of what’s possible when it comes to considering adoption of a UPI-type transaction platform to enable fast, seamless and low-cost domestic real-time payments.

Additionally, it has paved the way for payments interoperability across providers and borders to facilitate easier cross-border payments and overseas transactions, effectively interlinking India’s UPI with the payment systems of over 10 countries, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, UAE, and France.

Apart from India, Indonesia holds great promise for rapid economic growth. “Indonesia’s advantage lies in commodities”, The Economist said in an article last year, with the primary commodity being nickel, which is in high demand globally due to the transition towards clean energy.

Nickel, “The coveted critical mineral underpinning new technologies such as electric vehicles and batteries,” as per an article published in the Financial Times in November 2023, is found in abundance in Indonesia. In fact, Indonesia is the world’s biggest nickel producer and the country with the largest nickel reserves.

Given Indonesia’s vast reserves of nickel, a critical component in lithium-ion batteries used to power most electric vehicles (EVs), Indonesia is keen to become a global player in the world’s EV supply chain by developing manufacturing capabilities for EVs and their batteries. To this end, it is aggressively courting international EV makers and battery producers.

Supporting this assertion, The Economist cited in a recent article that “Indonesia wants a bigger role in green supply chains. It seeks to do everything from mining and refining nickel, even to building the electric vehicles that run on it. It then wants to export the finished products to the rest of the world.”

With the world’s biggest EV seller, China’s BYD, planning to invest in Indonesia’s EV market and US auto manufacturer Ford Motor Company taking a direct stake in a battery-nickel plant in South East Asia’s largest economy, investment and collaboration opportunities in developing the EV ecosystem in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, are likely to receive a boost.

Just as India and Indonesia have, Vietnam has benefited from the “China Plus One” strategy, with global companies diversifying production and sourcing activities, thereby reducing dependence on China.

Vietnam has become a major player in global electronics manufacturing, with Samsung becoming the leading foreign investor in the country. According to Vietnam Investment Review, “As of late 2023, Samsung had invested over 20 billion USD in Vietnam. At present, more than 50% of Samsung products sold around the world are made in Vietnam.”

With Vietnam planning to promote itself as a global semiconductor chip hub, backed by government support and a well-developed infrastructure, as well as its geographical proximity to China, the nation has a distinct advantage as a friendshoring (shifting manufacturing and sourcing toward geopolitical allies or friendly countries) chips location for the US, spurring American companies from Nvidia to Dutch semiconductor company, Besi, to expand their chip business in Vietnam.

Intel, one of the world’s largest semiconductor chip manufacturers, has made significant investments in Vietnam. Nvidia, the first chip company nearing a $2 trillion valuation, is also planning an expansion in Vietnam. This move may be an attempt by Nvidia to diversify its supply chain and lessen its reliance on Taiwan.

Furthermore, Vietnam enjoyed a surge in foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows in 2023. According to the Foreign Investment Agency (FIA), a branch of Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment, the country attracted nearly $36.61 billion in foreign investment last year, representing a rise of 32.1% year-on-year.

With analysts interviewed by CNBC in January predicting that India, Japan, and Vietnam will be Asia-Pacific’s top-performing markets in the first half of 2024, Vietnam is expected to unlock more opportunities to attract global companies as a business and investment destination.  

Much like Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, and Morocco, which have benefited from strained US-China relations, Poland too has reaped considerable benefits from the ongoing US-China trade war.

According to an analysis of trade and investment data titled “These Five Countries Are Key Economic 'Connectors' in a Fragmenting World” by Bloomberg Economics and Bloomberg Businessweek, despite their very different politics and pasts, all the above countries share an opportunistic desire to seize the economic windfall to be had by positioning themselves as new links between the US and China—or China, Europe and other Asian economies.

Poland, among the five countries dubbed as key “economic connectors” by Bloomberg Economics, has long served as a vital trade hub between Europe and Asia. However, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has amplified Poland’s geographical and manufacturing importance, positioning it as a popular nearshoring destination for corporations aiming to export their products to both the East and the West.

In an article published in The Guardian last year, Anna Gromada, co-founder of the Warsaw-based Kalecki Foundation, remarked on Poland’s profound transformation and its consequential shift in Europe’s pecking order.

“Poland has experienced uninterrupted growth over three decades, the longest in European history. Its GDP has increased tenfold nominally, sixfold when corrected for the cost of living”, Gromada wrote in The Guardian. She attributes this phenomenal ascent to Poland’s automotive industry.

The auto sector, one of the strongest pillars of the Polish economy, has emerged as the main supplier of cars, car parts and components in Central and Eastern Europe. Demand for electric cars is also steadily rising in the EU. The growing sales of EVs are translating into an increased demand for lithium-ion batteries, which propel EVs.

This bodes well for Poland’s economic growth, as it is currently the biggest manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries in Europe and the world’s second largest lithium-ion battery producer after China, in addition to emerging as a thriving hub for technology and electronics manufacturing.

Moreover, with Volkswagen selecting Poland as the location for their €1.7 billion EV battery parts plant, and Daimler AG, the owner of Mercedes-Benz, investing €1.3 billion to build an electric van factory in the country, Poland should continue to attract international investment and development in electric mobility.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration January 2024 market overview, “With 38 million people, Poland is the largest single market among the ‘new’ European Union (EU) states and 5th among all EU member states.” This has boosted Poland’s economic stability and growth driven by exports and strong domestic consumption.

Aside from Poland, the three emerging Asian economies - India, Indonesia, and Vietnam – offer sizable domestic markets that provide tremendous business opportunities for global corporations to exploit.

In conclusion, as India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Poland leverage manufacturing and technological advancements, strategic infrastructure investments, political stability, evolving geopolitical dynamics and enhanced international partnerships to initiate a new economic chapter in the 21st century that offers a thriving investment environment to multinational corporations, their CEOs, CFOs and treasurers should take heed. Overlooking these developments may result in risking missed opportunities for significant corporate growth, given the immense potential that these countries offer.

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