In view of intensifying US-China confrontation and Taiwan actively promoting its New Southbound Policy, many Taiwan-based suppliers intend to meet increasing capacity demand by relocating manufacturing to Southeast Asia and building new industrial clusters there to tap the demographic and geographic advantages as well as rapidly growing market demand in the region. They look to replicate their experiences in China and make Southeast Asia the next world factory that will support rising needs as the global supply chain makes transitions to accommodate "G2" (US vs China) developments.
Vietnam and Thailand, neighboring China, will be Taiwan-based suppliers' first choices for their move into Southeast Asia, followed by Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. They will not include Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia in their consideration due to political instability in those countries unless they have no other choices.
Some suppliers note that manufacturers choose to build new production bases in Vietnam and Thailand in part for their transport infrastructure. Being able to transport goods via their road networks will make up for the incomplete supply chain ecosystems in Vietnam or Thailand.
The shift to regional manufacturing has given rise to the new trend - short supply chains. The supply chains in Vietnam and Thailand are near completion after years of effort. Furthermore, component suppliers' added demand in recent years are largely for automotive and home appliance parts, rather than ICT devices and applications, which allows them to better connect with Thailand's local industry development. Vietnam and Thailand are therefore the ideal choices for Taiwan-based suppliers foraying into Southeast Asia.
Recent macro-environment changes are driving an increasing number of suppliers to invest in Vietnam. This is beginning to spur a rise in land costs and an imbalance in labor supply and demand, according to industry observers. In particular, small- and medium-sized suppliers not only face difficulty in land acquisition but also have to compete for human resources with large enterprises that can offer more attractive compensations and benefits such as Samsung Electronics and Foxconn. Suppliers planning to set up operation in Vietnam need to take a lot of factors into consideration.
Thailand will be more suitable for some small- and medium-sized suppliers as it has a substantial number of migrant workers that can provide a relatively more stable labor supply. Labor turnover has also improved thanks to its recent economic developments. The Thai government has been offering incentives to drive developments in motor vehicle and electric vehicle (EV) parts as well as EV batteries, which overlap with the areas Taiwan-based manufacturers are actively expanding into. This is another factor that makes Thailand appealing to Taiwan-based suppliers.
Many suppliers indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to put off or suspend their plans to move into Southeast Asia. When they strategize about building new production bases in Southeast Asia, aside from customer requirements and supply chain considerations, they should also gain an understanding of what preferential treatments and investment incentives Southeast Asian governments may be putting forward to attract manufacturers looking to set up production outside of China as there are all kinds of different offers on the table, industry observers say.