泰越台商的東協布局

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2009 / 9月

文‧李珊 圖‧林格立


1990年代,當多數台商被中國大陸的強力磁吸效應吸去之際,另有一群眼光別具的台商卻在政府「南進」政策的支援下,克服語言與風土民情障礙,搶進東協默默打拚。這些台商在東協國家譜出的故事,曲折精采卻少為人知,尤其2003年東協形成單一市場後,他們更如魚入大海、揮灑自如,有的搶下東南亞第一品牌,有的善用當地資源、市場,壯大企業規模,有的在品牌商的羽翼下快速累積競爭力,如今新契機──2010年「東協加一(中國)」即將展開,他們又將創造什麼新版圖?令人期待。


圍繞曼谷周圍的3個工業區中,車程3小時的羅永工業區是開發最晚、優惠條件也最佳的,車行在80米寬的36號公路上,兩旁大片廠房林立,台灣幾個重點企業如正新輪胎、東帝士、聚亨螺絲,都座落於此區。

走進聚亨螺絲的廠區,如茵草坪、雕飾華麗的金色佛像、彷若5星級俱樂部的門面,實在顛覆一般人對鋼鐵廠的冷硬印象。

「泰國土地價格是台灣地價的1/10,這對需要大面積生產的鋼鐵廠是重要的投資誘因,」聚亨泰國廠副總蘇鐘培指出,廠區70公頃、約有一座高爾夫球場大,加上「8免5減(前8年免稅、後5年減半)」的優惠及高效的物流系統,1996年聚亨帶著50億泰銖(約50億台幣)落腳於此。

有人說螺絲是個尷尬產業,大資本看不上,小資本又進不來,卻是各產業不可或缺的零組件,從航太、汽車、機械設備、建築、電子、金屬、家具……,幾乎無處不在。

1980年代,聚亨從做螺絲五金貿易起家,一路從螺絲製造、向上游球化線材挺進。為了進一步掌握上游原料 ,於是又切入盤元與鋼胚製造;1995年聚亨在台灣上市,由於自忖競爭不過龍頭企業中鋼,遂決定將腳步跨出台灣。

至於為何相中泰國而非大陸?

「我們的規模不大,必須透過現金增資募集資金,而當時投資大陸有不能超過公司資本額4成的上限,除非偷跑、繞路,否則根本不可能到大陸投資,」蘇鐘培解釋。

不同於台灣或大陸螺絲廠以「群聚分工」的模式彼此支援,孤懸泰國的聚亨採取幾近「一條龍」模式,從上游盤元做到下游螺絲,打造螺絲產業的另類傳奇,和美國第一大鋼鐵廠Nucco並列全世界唯二的一條龍式螺絲廠。目前聚亨已是泰國最大的盤元、線材和螺絲廠,近年更向上游鋼胚廠投資。盤元年產量36萬公噸,內銷佔6成、外銷4成;大小螺絲年產近5萬噸,全數外銷,以歐美及俄國的建築用螺絲為大宗,去年集團營業額為120億台幣。

小螺絲大學問

參觀聚亨廠區令人大開眼界,才知道小小一顆螺絲竟然需要如此繁複製程。

所謂「盤元」,是由一根根15公分見方、長達12公尺、重達2,000公斤的柱狀鋼胚經由高溫處理、滾動壓製而成一捲捲如瑞士捲般的盤元;經過「球化」──改變內部結構、降低硬度,再加上拉細、酸洗、防鏽製程,即成為製作螺絲的「線材」。

直徑從5.5到42釐米的線材,再依不同規格以機台裁切、打頭、捻芽、電鍍而成螺絲,從頭到尾800多部各式重型機器,製造出上萬種規格的螺絲。

「我們的競爭者是中國大陸的鋼廠,」蘇鐘培表示,中國因毛澤東時代的「土法煉鋼」淵源,小鋼鐵廠林立,改革開放後在工業化需求下更是進展快速,自用之外已經成為淨出口國,從上游鋼胚到下游螺絲皆有外銷。由於中國的環保成本低,以電鍍製程的廢水處理為例,泰國一公斤成品處理費為0.7元泰銖,高達總成本的1-2成,而大陸幾乎不需此費用,因此能以低價大量傾銷歐美,早已引起各國課徵懲罰性的反傾銷稅(60%-200%)。

「所幸,近年中國政府大力執行環保措施,未來市場將逐漸趨向公平競爭。」也因為聚亨品質遠優於中國鋼品,明(2010)年「東協加中國」完成後,聚亨並不擔心大陸盤元來泰國搶地盤,反而因關稅全免之利,聚亨可以搶進中國,和大陸鋼鐵廠一爭高下,並「收復」自2003 年丟掉的大陸市場,預定2018年完成的「東協加日本」自由貿易市場,則有利於他們收復被中國搶去的日本失地,更往遠看,「東協加6」則可向西囊括印度市場。這都是聚亨當初來泰國設廠時無法預見的「意外收穫」。

關稅優勢

像聚亨這樣在東協設有生產基地而外銷全球的台商,多半受惠於東協及「東協加N」自由貿易協定,除了終端產品交易的優勢外,東協10國間的原料、半成品交易關稅的剷除,也是台商「力用」東協的另一模式。

國內電機老字號東元集團也因為看準此一趨勢,2006年即調整布局,把原來在台灣生產、供應東南亞的馬達及家電產能移到越南。東元在越南胡志明市附近的美孚工業區買下了面積42公頃土地,計畫打造一個跨事業部(重電馬達和家電部門)的東南亞生產基地,並呼朋引伴,力邀零組件供應商一塊兒前來投資,目前已在建廠籌備中,但因去年全球經濟衰退,市場需求轉弱,預定今年投產的計畫只得往後遞延。

東元越南馬達廠總經理王清華表示,東元原本從台灣進口零件、半成品在馬來西亞組裝,但現在礙於從台灣進口要課5%-20%不等的關稅,若為成品則需課 26%,足足比東協區域內交易高出約15%,因此重新布局──把勞力不足的馬來西亞廠移至勞力充沛的越南,並且擴大規模,加入原先的台灣產能。至於台灣產能並不受影響,移出的部分將由技術層級高的客製化生產線遞補。

「力用」東協

2003年東協先進6 國成為單一市場後,除了關稅優惠外,各國間不同的產業優勢,也是讓企業前仆後繼前往布局的因素。

以台灣自創品牌的模範生「正新輪胎」為例,2003年到泰國設廠時,便是看中泰國優異的橡膠原料,加上當地蓬勃的汽車產業,可藉此切入泰國潛力雄厚的維修市場。

以「亞洲底特律」自我定位的泰國,其汽車工業是僅次於食品、電子業的第3大產業;由於泰國政府張開雙臂歡迎100%外資進入,美日大車廠近10年來紛紛前往設廠,同時吸引了周邊的衛星工廠群聚泰國。2008年,全泰國16家車廠產能已高達140萬輛,是東協最大的汽車生產和出口國,以維修為主的汽車零組件業也水漲船高、快速發展。

「我們破土一年後生產線就開始運作,產能增加很快,2008年已到每天生產2萬6,000條,是台灣廠的1.7倍,今年大環境不景氣,但我們訂單滿檔,連星期日都還在加班呢!」正新泰國廠副總經理林鈺榆滿意地說。

目前正新輪胎的全球布局是,台灣母廠做為全球運籌中樞,並且供應台灣市場需求;最大市場中國(佔營業額5成)由設於上海、廈門等大陸廠供應;新興的南亞、東南亞市場、澳洲及大部份的歐美市場則由這座位於羅永工業區的廠區供應。

「泰國除了可享有東協區域內的關稅優惠,又因為和美國、澳洲簽有雙邊FTA(自由貿易協定),對我們外銷美、澳大大加分;要是從大陸或台灣廠出貨的話,需付5%關稅,那就虧大了!」正新台灣總部協理李宏格說。

3年前正新為了進軍摩托車和輕卡車輪胎市場,再跨足越南設立「交叉層」車胎廠。之所以另闢陣線,「是為了把產品線拉大,涵蓋更大市場,」李宏格表示,此外泰國、越南廠還可互相支援、調度產能,並做大陸廠的後援。

有備無患──「中國+1」

近年來,由於「中國製」產品橫掃全球,不少國家百般設限,甚至對中國大量外銷的產品課徵反傾銷稅(如埃及對中國的汽車及卡車輪胎,土耳其對中國汽車及摩托車胎),美國、印度也正調查中國汽車輪胎的出口數量,這些衍生自中國的風險,都可轉由東協廠來分攤。

「中國製造」除了外部風險,還包括近3年來中共對製造業「騰籠換鳥」政策(以高規格的勞動、環保及稅務法規,迫使傳統產業向內陸遷移)引發的效應。為分攤風險,近年前往東協國家投資的台商絡繹於途,而越南因加入WTO,加上政府政策誘因,造成2007 年投資大熱潮,雖然隨後即因全球金融風暴而逐漸冷卻,許多台商投資案進度也被迫延後,但許多人仍認為越南是「中國+1」策略中,那個「1」的極佳選項。

2007年,台灣電子業龍頭鴻海前往越南北部投資,就是指標性案例。

「鴻海當初來北越有兩大原因,」越南北部台商協會會長、從事工業區開發的陳耀奎分析,首先,越南在東協10國中政治經濟情況最穩定,既無游擊隊,也沒有宗教異議份子,再加上海路空運輸便利,從廣州經邊境「友誼關」運零組件到北越河內,陸運(含通關)只要18小時,比在中國內陸運輸還快;貨品組裝完成出口時,海運(海防港)、空運(內排機場)都在車程2小時內可達,堪稱東協國家中條件最好的生產基地。

鴻海大舉前來,除了設立其在中國之外的最大生產基地,還計畫在北寧省投資上千公頃的造鎮計畫,金額高達80億美元,2007 年消息傳出,一時間立刻吸引了周邊供應商前來卡位。

「郭董考慮到中國政府的壓力,希望以最快的速度建廠,又認為既已取得開發執照,就應該可以順利取得土地,」陳耀奎指出。可惜鴻海董事長郭台銘沒料到後續程序,包括徵收、補償地上物、掃雷等曠日廢時,使整個投資案延宕下來;到了2008年中,又碰到越南的罷工潮、通膨,以及美國雷曼兄弟投資銀行倒閉引發的全球金融危機,才於11月宣布投資計畫暫緩。

事實上,鴻海建廠進度並未停擺,目前仍有一千多名台、中籍幹部和作業員在北越進行相關的籌備工作,桂武和黃田工業區的生產線也持續運作,鴻海集團在北江省、永福省各買下400 公頃土地,目前仍在陸續交地中,「但是現在不那麼急了,」負責建廠和土地開發的子公司KCT工程公司副總經理徐英傑說。

「若越南政府能記取過去土地取得困難、罷工問題等教訓,改善投資環境,或許能在這波金融風暴平息後,創造另一波投資熱潮。」陳耀奎認為,鴻海未來若能繼續投資,原已撤資的各供應商還是會捲土重來,2000年前後大陸昆山台商電子業蜂擁群聚的盛況在北越再現,並不是不可能。

利弊互見

自由貿易使縱橫全球的外銷型大企業受惠,但對大多數中小型企業,尤其是以內銷東南亞當地為主的台商來說,一旦東協FTA締約國的產品大舉進入市場,勢必造成衝擊。

在越南自創品牌的ASAMA自行車,即便已具備越南市占率第一的光環,仍對「東協加1」後的可能衝擊嚴陣以待。

穿梭在胡志明市的10台自行車中,有7台掛著「ASAMA」牌子;當年為了避開和台灣巨大自行車「自己人打自己人」,董事長方武樂相中了不會被課反傾銷稅、且還擁有歐盟優惠關稅的越南。2000年來此設廠時,原以外銷歐盟、日本為主,並試探性嘗試內銷,後來發現越南製的自行車品質很差,新車騎不到一個星期就開始出毛病,他嗅出市場機會後,逐漸擴大內銷比重,雖然車價比越南當地行情高4成(台幣2,000元比台幣1,400元),但「3年不壞」的口碑很快地擄獲消費者的心。「沒花多少廣告費,名氣就打出來了!」方樂武說,2004年他們開始大量內銷, 3年內即成為越南8,000萬人口市場的第一品牌。

成為越南最夯的自行車後,挑戰也隨之而來,當地業者仿冒不斷,甚至有人直接闖進校園把一整排的ASAMA商標撕下賣給仿冒業者使用。

「即便有專利法等法令,但因公安執行效率很低,根本沒辦法有效取締,除非你能找到仿冒工廠拍照取得證據。」面對猖獗歪風,方樂武以聘請二十多位研發人員、不斷開發新產品來應對。

目前ASAMA的年銷售量是40萬台,但他預估未來將有100萬台的潛力。至於5億人口的龐大東協市場和18億人口的「東協加中國」自由貿易區,對ASAMA來說則是利弊參半,「一方面可進口中國便宜的原材料,同時也要面對中國車的競爭。」方樂武拿出的對策是「提高自製率」,目前ASAMA的自製率約50%,另外5成,包含輪胎、鏈條、軸心等零組件,有些由當地生產,部分自台灣進口。未來ASAMA自製率提高到6成、供應商自製率也提高到9成後,將可省下運費及進口成本,提升價格競爭力。

廣大的東協市場雖然令人垂涎,但方樂武認為他們需要站穩腳步再跨出去,畢竟越南市場的挑戰還在。

同樣在越南「坐大」、以腳踏車墊起家的鋒明國際,10年前到此投資並且自創「Active」品牌打入歐盟市場,同時外銷東協5國,內銷比重近年隨越南消費力提升,也增加到3 成。

未來面對中國產品跨境南下爭奪市場,「我們的策略是加強對本地經銷商的服務,以口碑和熱誠來維繫客戶忠誠度,」鋒明國際總經理蔡文瑞說。

行銷到東協

不同於多數台商仍把東協當成廉價「工廠」,眼光獨具的宏砦q腦則早已在這個新富市場攻城掠地、獲利豐厚。宏眳酗U東協市場筆記型電腦第一品牌的故事,有何啟示?

「7月初的曼谷電腦展中,每賣出2台電腦,就有一台是Acer,」宏眳鶧磥壑膝q總經理楊宏培表示,宏皉b東南亞根扎得很早、很深,當全球電腦大廠的眼光都放在歐美、中國時,他們早在1980 年代就開始鋪路,先在各國設立經銷商,1995年「宏眥篕琚v在新加坡上市,肩負起星、馬、印、菲、泰5國市場開拓和售後服務的運籌角色。

楊宏培回憶1996年從澳洲調至泰國分公司時,剛開始泰國政府不開放100%外資企業投資,宏皏u得和某家泰國電腦公司合資,雙方經營觀念和決策模式落差極大,吃了不少苦頭,第二年又碰到亞洲金融風暴,2 億泰銖的資本額,一下子因匯差虧掉5千萬,「沒想到金融風暴卻也救了我們。」楊宏培說,泰國政府為了搶救經濟而開放100%外資,他終於可以放手一搏。

「當時我做了3 件事,第一,要長遠扎根,必須建立售後服務網;其次,把以往的經銷商做汰弱扶強的大洗牌;第三是在全泰國設立13 個分公司,以充分掌握在地市場。」楊宏培說,他鎖定政府機構和校園,以分期付款方式,吸引數十萬師生和公務員擁有第一部電腦,再以快速維修策略,攻下民間機構與公司的市場。

「我們單在曼谷一地就聘有250位維修工程師,車隊有13輛汽車、20台摩托車,像軍隊一樣,還用GPS定位系統來控管。」楊宏培說,泰國銀行要求嚴格,電腦需要維修時,2小時內工程師必須到達,而曼谷幅員廣大(為台北市面積的5倍多)、塞車嚴重,這個不可能的任務他們還是做到了!至於個人電腦則以便利的維修站取勝,有5 成可在送修當天取貨,其他最晚在3天內全部完成。

十多年來楊宏培經常各地奔波,拜訪經銷商「搏感情」,「『在地化』是宏硈怑垠n的策略,也就是聘請當地的人、做當地要的產品。」

宏皉b東協各國筆電市占率都達3-4成,全是第一名,個人電腦的市占率則在10-20%間,去年即便大環境不景氣,營業額仍維持140億泰銖(台幣也約140億元)。今年目標是小幅成長到150億。

相對於台商外銷眼光多望向歐美,宏眽戙衁F南亞20 年,目前結出的果實堪稱甜美,更引人期盼的是,泰國6,500萬人口中,目前只有一千多萬人有電腦,還有廣大的潛在市場等待開發。此外,越南、柬埔寨等其他東協後段班市場,也都已納入宏眭漸憎蚋饕洃丑C

綜觀台商的東協布局,從運用廉價的勞力土地與原料,搭關稅優惠、產業政策便車,到分散投資風險、開拓處女市場,各家企業、各個時間點的投資考量儘管不同,但這些成功台商都善於發揮所長、切入利基,掌握東亞區域整合大潮中的商機,值得國人喝采!

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Taiwanese Businesses in Thailand and Vietnam

Coral Lee /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Scott Williams

Many Taiwanese businesses felt the powerful magnetic attraction of mainland China in the 1990s, but another group chose instead to follow the government's recommendation to "Go South." Here in Taiwan, few people know to just what lengths this latter group went to overcome the linguistic and cultural challenges to doing business in the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These firms have become even more successful since the integration of the ASEAN market in 2003-some earning a place among Southeast Asia's leading brands, others using local resources and markets to grow and strengthen their businesses, and still others utilizing their work with major corporations as a springboard for their own competitiveness. With the 2010 rollout of ASEAN Plus China nearly upon us, how do these firms plan to negotiate the road ahead?


Rayong Industrial Land, an industrial park just a three-hour drive away from Bangkok, is the newest of Bangkok's three satellite industrial zones and provides its tenants the best perks. Taiwanese firms are well represented among the long stretch of factories flanking the 80-meter-wide Highway 36. Cheng Shin Tire, the Tuntex Group, and Tycoons Group all have facilities here.

The golden Buddha at the entrance to Tycoons' plant makes it look more like a five-star club than a business. It has nothing of the cold, hard look you'd expect of a steel maker.

"Land prices in Thailand are only one-tenth of those in Taiwan," says Tony Su, vice president of Tycoons' Thai operations. "Steelmakers need a great deal of land, so that's definitely an incentive to invest." Su says that Tycoons invested THB5 billion (roughly NT$5 billion) in its 70-hectare Thai plant in 1996 in a deal that provided it with an eight-year-long tax holiday, and an additional five years of taxes at only half the normal rate. (The company also found Thailand's efficient transport and logistics network attractive.)

Steel fasteners is an odd industry. Firms with significant capital resources have no interest in it, and those without can't afford to get into it. Yet the industry's products are essential to virtually every other industry, including aerospace, automotive, machine tool, construction, electronics, metals, and furniture.

Tycoons Group was founded as a hardware exporter in the 1980s, and gradually extended its operations up the manufacturing chain from steel fasteners to spheroidized wire. From there, it moved into wire rods and steel billets to better control its supply chain. Tycoons listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange in 1995, but recognized that it would have difficulty competing with industry leader China Steel Corporation and began gradually expanding its operations outside of Taiwan.

Where most Taiwanese and mainland Chinese steel-fasteners manufacturers use a "collective division of labor" to provide one another with mutual support, Tycoons was on its own in Thailand and consequently developed an integrated manufacturing model that had it making everything from the wire rod and wire to the fasteners themselves. An oddball legend within the steel fasteners industry, Tycoons is one of only two fully integrated fasteners makers in the world. (The other is the US giant Nucor.) Tycoons is also currently the largest wire rod, wire, and fasteners maker in Thailand, and has been investing in steel billet production there as well. The company produces 360,000 metric tons of steel rod annually, selling 60% domestically and 40% abroad. It also manufactures nearly 50,000 tons of steel fasteners annually, all of it for export, the bulk of which is consumed by the construction industries in the US, Europe, and Russia. Tycoons Group had revenues of NT$12 billion in 2008.

Little screws, lotsa knowhow

Our visit to the Tycoons facility was truly eye opening. We never imagined that making ordinary screws was so complicated a business!

The company first makes wire rod by heating, rolling, and pressing 12-meter-long, 15-centimeter-square steel billets weighing 2,000 kilograms into a jelly-roll shape. It next spheroidizes the wire rod to make it softer and more ductile, then draws, phosphatizes, and rustproofs it to create the wire it uses to produce fasteners.

Now 5.5 to 42 centimeters in diameter, the wire is cut, formed, threaded, and galvanized. In all, the company uses over 800 different heavy machines to produce fasteners to more than 10,000 different specifications.

"Our competitors are mainland Chinese steel companies," says Su. He explains that one of the consequences of Mao Zedong's "backyard steel furnace" program was that small steel mills proliferated throughout China. Once the Chinese economy liberalized, industrialization created enormous demand for steel. This in turn led to rapid development within the steel industry with the result that China has now become a net exporter of steel products ranging from steel billets to fasteners. Chinese manufacturers also pay very little in the way of environmental protection costs. Where manufacturers in Thailand must pay fees of THB0.7 per kilogram of finished product (an amount equal to 10-20% of total production costs) for the treatment of wastewater generated by the galvanizing process, Chinese manufacturers pay nothing. This has enabled them to export low-cost steel to the US and Europe in such high volumes that many nations have long levied anti-dumping tariffs of 60-200% on China's steel products.

"Fortunately, the Chinese government has begun implementing environmental measures, which should result in fairer competition in the future," says Su. Since Tycoons' products are of far higher quality that those of its mainland counterparts, the company is unworried that the 2010 rollout of ASEAN Plus China will allow Chinese steel to dominate the Thai market. Instead, Tycoons expects the agreement's elimination of tariffs to help it go toe-to-toe with Chinese manufacturers on their home turf, enabling it to regain the ground it surrendered when it pulled out of the Chinese market in 2003. The company further anticipates that the completion of the ASEAN Plus Japan accord (expected in 2018) will help it recover territory lost to Chinese manufacturers in the Japanese market. Looking even further ahead, Tycoons expects ASEAN Plus Six to extend its reach into the Indian market, bringing benefits never anticipated when it first set up shop in Thailand.

Tax perks

Most Taiwanese firms that, like Tycoons, export to the world from a manufacturing base within ASEAN are likely to benefit from the ASEAN Plus free-trade accords. In addition to benefits related to trade in end products, these firms also enjoy reduced tariffs on intra-ASEAN trade in raw materials and unfinished goods.

The Teco Group, a venerable Taiwanese manufacturer of electronics, acted to take advantage of these ASEAN-related perks in 2006 by moving its manufacturing of motors and home electronics for the Southeast Asian market from Taiwan to Vietnam. Teco bought 42 hectares near Ho Chi Minh City in the My Phu Industrial Zone to establish a Southeast Asian production base for heavy motors and home electronics and urged its suppliers to invest along with it. While construction continues on Teco's facility, the global economic slowdown and the concomitant softening of demand have necessitated delaying the start of production to some time after this year.

Wang Ching-hwa, general director of Teco (Vietnam) Electric & Machinery Co., says that Teco used to assemble parts and unfinished goods from Taiwan in Malaysia. But Taiwanese parts and unfinished goods are now subject to 5-20% tariffs, and finished goods to 26% tariffs, or about 15 percentage points more than those on ASEAN goods. Teco therefore moved its Malaysia factory from labor-scarce Malaysia to labor-rich Vietnam, and increased the new facility's size by transferring some of its Taiwanese capacity there. But this offshoring hasn't affected the group's Taiwan-based capacity; instead, it complements the technologically advanced and custom production lines that remain here.

Taking advantage of ASEAN

When the six original members of ASEAN unified their markets in 2003, firms from outside the region were attracted by the tariffs perks and the other advantages that accrued to those nations' industries.

Taiwan's Cheng Shin Tire, which set up production facilities in Thailand in 2003, is a case in point. Cheng Shin came to Thailand for the exceptional rubber resources. But the country's car industry was also booming, and Cheng Shin hoped to win a share of the large maintenance market.

Thailand calls itself the "Detroit of Asia," and its automotive industry is the nation's third largest, behind food and electronics. Over the last decade, the Thai government's policy of welcoming foreign firms with open arms and allowing them to set up wholly owned subsidiaries has attracted investment from all the major American and Japanese car makers, as well as their parts suppliers. By 2008, Thailand's 16 car makers had built enough production capacity to produce 1.4 million vehicles per year, making the nation ASEAN's largest automobile producer and exporter. This rising automotive tide has also lifted aftermarket parts producers, which have also experienced rapid growth.

"We began production one year after breaking ground on our plant and rapidly ramped up capacity," says Lin Yu-yu, vice general manager of Cheng Shin's Thai subsidiary. "By 2008, our capacity had reached 26,000 tires per day, or 1.7 times that of our Taiwan facility. Even with the economy in recession, our order book remains full and we've got people working on Sundays."

Cheng Shin's Taiwanese parent currently supplies the Taiwanese market and functions as the company's global operational hub; its Shanghai and Xiamen plants supply the China market (at 50% of revenues, the company's largest market); and its Thai facility, located in the Bangkok-area Rayong Industrial Land, supplies the European, Asian, and Australian markets.

"Thailand not only enjoys tariff benefits within ASEAN, it also has bilateral free trade agreements (FTA) with the US and Australia, which helps boost our sales there," explains Lenny Lee, director of international sales at Cheng Shin's Taiwan headquarters. "If we were to export to those markets from Taiwan or the mainland, we'd have to pay a 5% tariff, which would really hurt our bottom line."

Cheng Shin entered the motorcycle and light-truck tire markets in Vietnam three years ago, while also setting up a bias tire manufacturing facility in Vietnam. The company's reason for "opening up a new front" was to "expand [its] product lines and cover a larger market," says Li. In addition to supporting one another, the Vietnamese and Thai operations also provide a backup to the company's mainland operations.

China Plus One

In recent years, Chinese-made products have flooded global markets, prompting many nations to erect every barrier to Chinese goods that they can, even to the point of levying anti-dumping tariffs on China's high-volume exports. Examples of the latter include Egypt's tariffs on Chinese car and truck tires, and Turkey's on Chinese car and motorcycle tires. The US and India have also been studying the volume of China's exports of tires for passenger vehicles. Companies such as Cheng Shin can ameliorate these kind of China-specific risks by moving production to ASEAN factories.

But these external risks aren't the whole story. There are also internal risks associated with Chinese manufacturing. Over the last three years, the Chinese government has implemented demanding new labor, environmental protection, and taxation regimes intended to push traditional manufacturers into the interior. Taiwanese firms have responded by pouring investment into ASEAN in recent years in an effort to better distribute their risks. Vietnam-now a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) offering government-sponsored investment incentives-became a hotspot for investment in 2007. Though the global financial crisis has slowed the pace of inbound investment and caused many Taiwanese-invested projects to be postponed, Vietnam is still widely viewed as the best of the "China Plus One" options.

A 2007 investment by Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn in northern Vietnam offers an illustrative case in point.

"Foxconn had two principal reasons for investing in northern Vietnam," says Chen Yo-kuei, head of the northern branch of the Council of Taiwanese Chambers of Commerce in Vietnam and a developer of industrial parks. The first is that Vietnam has the most stable economic and political system in ASEAN. It has no guerillas and no religious dissidents, but does have convenient air and sea links. It also takes only 18 hours (including customs clearance) to transport parts overland from Guangzhou to northern Vietnam via the Friendship Pass. That's less time than it takes to transport them within China. Finished goods for export can go out by sea (via the port at Hai Phong) or by air (via Noi Bai International Airport), all less than two hours' drive from Hanoi. These factors make northern Vietnam one of ASEAN's best manufacturing locations.

"Given the pressure the Chinese government has been putting on firms, [Foxconn] Chairman Kuo sought to build the new factory as quickly as possible," says Chen. "He thought that since his company already had a development permit, getting land on which to build would be easy." Kuo hadn't realized how time consuming the process-including purchasing the land, providing compensation for existing structures, and sweeping for mines left over from previous wars-would be. Delayed to mid-2008, the project then encountered still other problems, including labor unrest and rising inflation in Vietnam, and the global financial crisis. In November, the company announced that it was putting the project on hold.

But Foxconn hasn't actually stopped work on its factory. In fact, it currently has more than 1,000 Taiwanese and mainland Chinese supervisors and operations personnel laying the groundwork in northern Vietnam, and has kept its production lines in the Que Vo and Dong Vang industrial parks running. The handover of a further 400 hectares of land the company purchased in Bac Giang and Vinh Phuc Provinces is also moving forward.

"If the Vietnamese government learns its lessons from the labor strikes and the troubles companies are having acquiring land, it will act to improve the investment environment," argues Chen. "That might well spark a new wave of investment once the current economic crisis passes."

Good and bad

Free trade benefits large exporters with global reach, but it hurts the majority of small- and medium-sized firms. Taiwanese firms that sell primarily to the Southeast Asia region will suffer particularly badly once signatories to the ASEAN free trade agreement begin flooding the market with their goods.

Asama Bicycles is a case in point. The Taiwanese company has established itself as the number-one brand in Vietnam, but is anticipating an onslaught of new competition once ASEAN Plus China comes into force.

Asama president Eddie Fang originally offshored his production to avoid head-to-head conflict with Taiwanese compatriot Giant Bicycles, and chose Vietnam because it had an advantageous tariff regime with the European Union (EU) and was not subject to any anti-dumping tariffs. When the company first established its facility in 2000, its products were intended primarily for export to Japan and the EU. Fang then noticed that the bikes made locally for the domestic market tended to be of poor quality, and often broke down within a week of their purchase. Sensing an opportunity, Fang began steering more Asamas into the Vietnamese market. Though his bikes are about 40% more expensive than other Vietnamese-made cycles (roughly NT$2,000 each versus NT$1,400 each), their reputation for durability quickly spread and attracted buyers. "We became famous without having to spend much on advertising," says Fang. The company began selling to the Vietnamese market in volume in 2004, and within three years had become the number-one brand in this nation of 80 million. These days seven out of ten bicycles on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City are emblazoned with the Asama logo.

But the company's success has created new challenges. Chief among them is that other local manufacturers are constantly counterfeiting Asama's products. In one instance, a thief ripped the logos off an entire row of Asama bikes parked at a school, then sold them to a counterfeiter.

"There are patent laws and other regulations, but Vietnam's public security system isn't very efficient," says Fang. "There's no way to get the counterfeiting under control unless you can track down the counterfeiting factory and get photographic evidence yourself." Fang's solution to this Wild West environment has been to hire more than 20 R&D personnel to keep new products rolling out of his factories at a steady clip.

Asama currently sells about 400,000 bicycles per year, and Fang predicts that that number could rise to 1 million. In his view, the 500-million-person ASEAN market and the 1.8-billion-person ASEAN Plus China market offer Asama good and bad in equal measure. "On the one hand, we'll be able to cheaply import Chinese raw materials," he explains. "On the other, we'll also face competition from Chinese manufacturers." His strategy is to increase the percentage of components the company manufactures for itself. Asama currently makes about half the parts its uses itself. The remainder, including tires, chains, hubs, and other parts, are either sourced locally or imported from Taiwan. If the company can increase its in-house manufacturing of parts to 60% and its suppliers' in-house manufacturing rate to 90%, the savings on transportation and import tariffs will make it more competitive.

While many businesspeople are salivating in anticipation of getting into the vast ASEAN market, Fang feels he needs to make sure he has his company on a solid footing before expanding, and the Vietnam market continues to present challenges.

Selling to ASEAN

Unlike the many Taiwanese businesses that still see ASEAN as a low-cost "factory," Acer Computers has been selling to this newly wealthy market, and turning big profits in the process. How did Acer become ASEAN's number-one notebook computer brand?

"At a July computer expo in Bangkok, one of every two computers sold was an Acer," says Harry Yang, the managing director of Acer Thailand. Yang says that Acer established itself in ASEAN early, and that it has put down deep roots. The company began laying the groundwork here in the 1980s, while the world's other major computer makers were still focused on Europe, the US, and China. After establishing distributors in each of the ASEAN nations, it listed Acer Computer International, a subsidiary handling sales and service in the Singaporean, Malaysian, Indonesian, Filipino, and Thai markets, on the Singaporean stock market in 1995.

Yang says that when he first transferred from Australia to Thailand, the Thai government still didn't allow foreign firms to set up wholly owned local subsidiaries. Acer therefore had to establish a joint venture with a Thai computer firm. But the two firms had very different notions about decision-making and operations, which caused headaches from the outset. Then, the year after the joint venture was formed, the Asian Financial Crisis swept across the region. The company lost one-quarter of its capital base of THB200 million almost overnight. "Who would have guessed that the financial crisis would actually save us?" muses Yang. He explains that in an effort to rescue the economy from the crisis the Thai government decided to permit foreign firms to create wholly owned subsidiaries. As a result, Yang at last had free rein to run the company the way he wanted.

"At the time, I was focused on three things," says Yang. "First, if we were going to put down solid roots, I had to build a service network. Second, I needed to carry out a major realignment of our distributors, culling the weaker ones and supporting the stronger ones. Third, I set about establishing 13 branches around Thailand to stay on top of local markets." Yang says that he first targeted the government and academic markets by using payment plans to entice hundreds of thousands of students and civil servants to buy their first computers, then won over the private sector by offering rapid repair and maintenance services.

"In Bangkok alone, we hired 250 service technicians and assembled a fleet of 13 cars and 20 motorcycles for repair calls," recalls Yang. "We recruited a virtual army, even outfitting them with GPS systems." The Thai banks were particularly demanding, requiring that maintenance techs show up within two hours of a repair call. But his people managed to deliver, in spite of Bangkok's enormous sprawl-it covers over five times the area of Taipei-and its terrible traffic.

Yang has also crisscrossed the country for more than a decade to maintain good relationships with Acer's distributors "Localization is crucial to Acer's strategy," he says. "That means hiring local people and tailoring our products to local demand."

Acer is ASEAN's number-one notebook computer brand, controlling 30-40% of the market in each of its member nations. It also has a 10-20% market share in each of ASEAN's desktop markets. Figures like that helped the company keep last year's revenues at about THB14 billion (about NT$14 billion) in spite of the sluggishness of the economy. Acer hopes to grow them to THB15 billion this year.

Acer, unlike other Taiwanese businesses that fixed their sights on Europe and America, has been sowing seeds in Southeast Asia for 20 years. The company is now reaping a bountiful harvest, and has great prospects for further development in the region. After all, only about 10 million of Thailand's 65 million people currently own computers. And Acer's development plans now extend to more recent additions to ASEAN-nations such as Vietnam and Cambodia-as well.

Looking at the incentives for Taiwanese investment in ASEAN-that is, at everything from cheap land, labor, and materials to tax perks, industrial policy, risk distribution, and the development of new markets-it seems that though the issues under consideration differ at every point in time and with every firm's every project, all of the Taiwanese firms that have been successful have played to their strengths and built their own niche. We should applaud these firms as they turn Southeast Asian economic integration to their own advantage.

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