Business Opportunities in Asia Abound

The many trade and investment opportunities existing in key Asian markets were the common theme of remarks by senior commercial officers from the U.S. Department of Commerce at a recent forum in San Francisco.

The gathering was hosted by law firm DLA Piper, a member of the California Chamber of Commerce, on March 30. The officers focused on key issues, opportunities, and the business climate of the countries represented.

(from left to right): David Gossack, senior commercial officer and commercial minister, Korea, speaks while Andrew Wylegala, minister-counselor for commercial affairs, Japan, and Gregory M. Wong, commercial counselor and senior commercial officer, Thailand, listen. Standing are Dean Fealk, partner, DLA Piper, and vice chair of the Northern California District Export Council, and Deep SenGupta, CEO of DSG Global, LLC and chair of the Northern California District Export Council.

The U.S. Department of Commerce representatives were:  James Golsen, executive director for Asia at the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce; Doug Wallace, senior commercial officer, Australia; Rosemary Gallant, senior commercial officer, Indonesia; Andrew Wylegala, minister-counselor for commercial affairs, Japan;  David Gossack, senior commercial officer and commercial minister, Korea; Catherine Spillman, counselor for commercial affairs, Malaysia; and Gregory M. Wong, commercial counselor and senior commercial officer, Thailand.

The 90-member business audience was welcomed by Dean Fealk, partner, DLA Piper and vice chair of the Northern California District Export Council (DEC), together with Deep SenGupta, CEO of DSG Global, LLC and chair of the Northern California DEC. In attendance was Susanne T. Stirling, CalChamber vice president of international affairs, a member of the Northern California DEC and the National DEC Steering Committee.

Export Councils

The District Export Councils contribute leadership and international trade expertise to complement the export promotion efforts of the U.S. Commercial Service through counseling businesses on the exporting process and conducting trade education and community outreach. The DEC members are appointed by the Secretary of Commerce.

For more than 30 years, DECs have served the United States by assisting companies in their local communities export, thus promoting our country’s economic growth and creating new and higher-paying jobs for their communities.

The National DEC consists of 16 DEC members elected by DEC members from each of the eight U.S. Commercial Service Networks. The mission of the National DEC is to provide support and guidance for fulfillment of the mission of the DECs, and to facilitate communication between the DECs, between the DECs and the US Department of Commerce, and between the DECs and the international business community and policymakers


The Asia-Pacific region represents nearly half of the Earth’s population, one-third of global gross domestic product (GDP) and roughly 50% of international trade. The large and growing markets of the Asia-Pacific already are key destinations for U.S. manufactured goods, agricultural products, and services suppliers.

During the past decade, however, growth in U.S. exports to Asia has lagged behind overall export growth. The United States is gradually losing market share in trade with Asian countries, which have negotiated more than 160 trade agreements among themselves, while the United States has signed only three with regional economies (South Korea, Singapore and Australia).


Australia has a market economy with a GDP of $1.339 trillion and a population of 23.78 million (World Bank). It is the 12th largest economy in the world, with a long established friendship with the United States. The Australian economy has been growing non-stop for 25 years and the population has a high level of disposable income.  Growth opportunities include renewable energy and the health care industry.

Australia’s diverse landscape and abundant natural resources have provided the country a high level of foreign investment for exporting commodities such as coal, iron ore, copper, gold, natural gas, uranium and renewable energy sources.

In addition to being a large exporter of natural resources, energy, and food, Australia also has a significant service sector. Main imports for Australia include machinery and transport equipment, computers and office machines, telecommunication equipment, crude oil and petroleum products.

As the 17th largest export destination for the United States, Australia has always enjoyed a strong trade relationship and a diverse portfolio with the U.S. In 2016, total exports were $22.2 billion with top categories being transportation equipment, nonelectrical machinery, computers, and chemicals.

In 2016, Australia was the 13th largest importer of California goods and services. California exported approximately $3.4 billion to the country, making it the largest exporter to Australia. The largest export category from California was computer and electrical products, totaling $830 million, up from $724.1 million in 2015. Transportation equipment totaled $512 million and represented 15.2% of all California exports to Australia. Other top export categories include miscellaneous manufactured commodities and food, totaling about 18% each of all export commodities.


With a population of 257.5 million, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world and represents a sizable consumer market. Fifty percent of the population is under the age of 30. The country spans 17,000 islands and three time zones. According to the most recent figures, Indonesia has a GDP of $861.93 billion, making it the 16th largest economy in the world (International Monetary Fund, World Bank)

The Indonesian government plays a significant role in Indonesia’s market economy in which it owns more than 160 enterprises and sets prices for several goods such as electricity, rice and fuel. Indonesia has the largest economy in Southeast Asia and is a member of both the G20 and APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation). It is a slow market to penetrate, but opportunities are to be found, especially in infrastructure development, the power sector and aviation.

The country’s main economic industries include petroleum and natural gas, apparel, textiles, apparel, mining, tourism and rubber. Indonesia has endured the recent global financial crisis through its reliance on domestic consumption to drive continual economic growth.

In addition, investment from both foreign and domestic sources has supported the Indonesian economy. Due to its recent economic growth and sound fiscal policies, Indonesia’s debt to GDP ratio has steadily declined.

Trade has been expanding swiftly between the United States and Indonesia in the last several years. Since 2005, U.S. exports to Indonesia have more than doubled from $3.1 billion to $6.03 billion in 2016. The main export categories are agricultural products, food, chemicals, and transportation equipment.

California exported approximately $621.6 million to Indonesia in 2016. The largest export category from California was food manufactures totaling $202 million, representing 32.6% of all exports. Other top exports include agricultural products, chemicals, and computers totaling 13.3%, 10.6%, and 9.2% of all export commodities respectively. ​


Although Japan tends to be a conservative country, it currently is an active and dynamic one with signs of growth. Prime Minister Abe has implemented his “Abeconomics,” including corporate governance reform and government transparency.  There is a movement to change the law so that the Prime Minister might stay in office through the 2020 Olympics, which is causing great economic excitement. Related, tourism is booming and gambling has been liberalized to assist this boom.

Although the “3D’s” continue to exist as concerns: debt overhang, deflation and demographics (the fastest graying population), there are great signs of growth. There are digital and energy opportunities, especially as a result of the recent liberalization of the power sector which has gone relatively unnoticed.

The United States is a large supplier of chemicals, transportation equipment, and computer and electronic products to Japan. Japan is also one of the largest U.S. foreign markets for agricultural products. U.S. exports to Japan were $63.2 billion in 2016, making it the fourth largest export destination for the United States. Imports from Japan to the United States were $132.2 billion, with transportation equipment accounting for 44.8%. According to the most recent figures, U.S. direct investment to Japan totaled $108.5 billion in 2015, largely in financial, software and Internet services. Foreign direct investment from Japan into the United States was $411.2 billion in 2015.

California continues to be the top exporting state to Japan, accounting for 18.6% of total U.S. exports. Since 2010, Japan has remained California’s fourth largest export market, after Mexico, Canada and China. California exports to Japan, the world’s third largest economy, totaled $11.7 billion in 2016. Computers and electronic products accounted for 23.7% of total exports. Imports into California from Japan were $41.3 billion, with transportation equipment accounting for more than half of total imports. California is currently the top importing state in the United States for products from Japan. In addition, California buys more products from Japan than any other country besides China and Mexico.


Korea is a significant market for U.S. small and medium-sized companies, which make up a majority of U.S. businesses exporting to Korea. Korea is the 11th largest economy and an economic success story. There are a number of traditional drivers of the economy, i.e., steel, shipbuilding, auto industry, information technology, and electronics, which are now feeling competitionfrom other countries. But there is a new emphasis on the “creative economy,” with R&D andinnovation. This transition makes for opportunities for California exporters. During the February 2018 Winter Olympics, 5g technology is expected to be rolled out.

Korea is a $1.377 trillion economy and its commercial relationship with the United States is largely complementary. In 2016, two-way trade between the two countries topped $112.2 billion. In 2016, U.S. goods exports to Korea were $42.26 billion.

Korea is California’s seventh largest export destination. California is the top exporting state to Korea, making up nearly 20% of U.S. exports. In 2016, California exported more than $8.2 billion to Korea. Top products from California to Korea included nonelectrical machinery, computers and electronics, transportation equipment, and food manufactures.

Korea currently enjoys broad access to the U.S. market and the United States is one of Korea’s larger exporting markets, importing 12.3% of Korea’s worldwide exported goods (CIA World Factbook). At the same time, 92% of U.S. goods now enter Korea duty free, as a result of the 2012 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement.

According to the most recent figures, U.S. foreign direct investment in Korea totaled roughly $34.6 billion and was concentrated largely in the manufacturing, banking, and wholesale trade sectors. Korean foreign direct investment to the United States reached $40 billion.

There are more than 1 million Korean Americans in the United States. Los Angeles alone is home to 158,100 residents of Korean origin, according to the Migration Policy Institute. There also is a large population of Korean students studying at higher education institutions across the United States. Korean visitors enter the United States via the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.


Malaysia is located in South East Asia with the South China Sea separating the country into peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (located on the island of Borneo). Malaysia borders Thailand, Indonesia, and Brunei, with Singapore just off the coast of peninsular Malaysia. Malaysia boasts a population of 30.3 million people with a GDP of $296.28 billion. It is roughly the size of New Mexico, and has a tropical climate.

Malaysia has  an upper middle economic economy, and is moving toward being a hub for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. Oil and gas, and palm oil are key industries. Growth opportunities exist in aerospace, biotech, and medical devices.

Bilateral trade between the United States and Malaysia reached $48.5 billion in 2016. The U.S. exported $11.8 billion to Malaysia, with top export categories being computers, transportation equipment, chemicals, and nonelectrical machinery.

The United States is Malaysia’s fourth largest export destination, while Malaysia stands as the United States’ 24th largest export destination. Malaysia is also currently the second largest U.S. trading partner in ASEAN. (U.S. Department of Commerce)

According to the most recent figures in 2015, the United States had directly invested nearly $13.9 billion into Malaysia, whereas Malaysia had invested $1.2 billion into the United States. (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Affairs)

In 2016, California exported $1.8 billion to Malaysia, comprising 15% of U.S. goods exports to the country. Trade between Malaysia and California is almost solely dominated by computer and electronics. Computer and electronic products made up 55.8% of the exports at $1.02 billion. The next closest exports were food at 6.6% ($121 million), nonelectrical machinery at 5.7% ($104 million), and electrical equipment at 5.7% ($103 million).

Malaysia is a member of a few large multilateral forums, such as APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation), and is a founding member of ASEAN.


Thailand is located in the lush lower Mekong river sub-basin of Southeast Asia with an estimated standing population of nearly 68 million people. The recent loss of the King of Thailand has created a year-long state of mourning.

Opportunities abound in tourism.  Bangkok is now the most visited city in the world, bypassing both London and Paris. Related, medical tourism is booming. Thailand is also very open to American franchises.
The United States imported approximately $29.5 billion from Thailand in 2016. That same year, the U.S. exported $10.5 billion.

In 2016, California exported $1.49 billion to Thailand. California’s main exports include, but are not limited to: computer and electronics, $679 million (453.5%) ; miscellaneous manufactured commodities, $135 million (9.1%) and food, roughly $110 million (7.4%). (U.S. Department of Commerce)

On the reverse side, in 2016, California imported $10 billion. The state’s main imports were: computer and electronics, $5.2 billion (51.7%); food manufactures, $854 million (8.5%); transportation equipment, $566 million (5.6%); and plastics and rubber, $522 million (5.2%). (U.S. Department of Commerce)

According to the Thai American Chamber of Commerce in California, California is home to some 200,000 Thais, the largest Thai population outside of Thailand.

For further information, please see the CalChamber country portals at

Staff Contact: Susanne T. Stirling