SINGAPORE (Nov 8): Only 61% of CEOs in Singapore expect to expand globally over the next three years, compared to 72% of CEOs within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) planning to do the same.

CEOs in Malaysia and Vietnam lead the way, with 89% and 86% respectively reporting that they plan to widen their businesses’ global footprint.

According to PwC’s 2017 APEC CEO Survey, only 63% of CEOs across the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) economies are expecting to see global expansion over the next three years.

This suggests that ASEAN CEOs are more eager to drive expansion into other markets, despite greater investment barriers and rising trade uncertainty, PwC says.

Meanwhile, only 36% of CEOs in Singapore say that they are “very confident” of their prospects for revenue growth during the coming year.

More are expecting barriers to employing foreign labour (50%) as well as barriers to providing or receiving services across borders (40%) to increase over the next year.

In this light, a majority 80% of local CEOs plan to rely more on business partnerships and joint ventures to adapt to the changing trade policy directions, with 31% planning to do so to a “great extent”.

"Technology and increased capital flows are inevitably revolutionising the business landscape in Southeast Asia, and Singapore must continue to seek out its comparative advantage to maintain its unique role within the region," says Sam Kok Weng, Asia Pacific markets leader, PwC.

At the same time, there has been an increased collaboration and brand presence in China among ASEAN countries, with 60% of Singapore CEOs eyeing to collaborate with businesses in China while 49% are looking to build their brand there.

In response to the changing trade environment, 79% of Singapore business leaders are also planning to relook at how they invest in some markets.

However, the outlook on exports across APEC has been muted due to the uncertainty surrounding trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) following the US’ withdrawal could have weakened sentiment.

Hence, ASEAN recorded a softened confidence in export growth at 42% and Singapore coming in even lower at 32%.

On the other hand, the top destinations for outbound investment in APEC over the next year include three ASEAN countries – Vietnam (47%), Indonesia (45%), and Thailand (36%).

Bob Moritz, chairman of PwC Global says, “Business leaders’ confidence suggests they are not waiting for the fog of uncertainty to clear to push ahead with investment plans. In the short term this will drive momentum for APEC, increasing its global influence and supporting deals activity with 71% of CEOs expecting to rely more on business partnerships/joint ventures in the future.”