General region overview

The varying fortunes for East Asian countries in dealing with COVID-19 has led to diverging paths for governments across the region after more than two months of managing the pandemic and the flow on effects for their economies.

Thailand and Viet Nam have begun to open certain sectors of their economy with special distancing and hygiene requirements, while South Korea has re-imposed restrictions after another spike in local infections. The Malaysian Government surprised many experts with a transition to looser, “Conditional Movement Control Orders”, and Singapore has loosened restrictions further, with around three-quarters of the economy resuming operation.

As easement of movement control orders begin to take place or are announced for the near future, there are glimpses of a return to normalcy for some areas of life in Asia, and even cautious optimism for some economies. With China's economy now largely re-opened, many East Asian nations with close links to China may get a boost, including factories in Japan and Korea. However, concerns remain about the potential for a second or third wave of infections and further returns to physical isolation.

Despite the slightly more positive outlook, significant damage has already occurred, and the effects are likely to linger to a different extent for each country and each industry. Exactly what the "new normal" for employment levels, spending habits, and freedom of movement will look like in the medium term remains to be seen.

New economic stimulus packages have been introduced or are expected to be announced in almost every East Asian country, including packages for large business, small and medium enterprise, and direct universal payment for citizens. The economic situation remains fluid for nearly every sector.

For more information on doing business in Asia, visit myNZTE - our free online portal for curated, in-depth information and guidance.

Resources for Asia

Export support
Last updated: 22 Jun 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: Indonesia overview, 22 June

NZTE Trade Commissioner, Diana Permana, speaks with NZ Ambassador to Indonesia, Dr. Jonathan Austin, about COVID-19 impacts on Indoensia.

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Export support
Last updated: 10 Jun 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: exporter stories from Malaysia, 4 June

NZTE Trade Commissioner, Simon Hearsey, speaks with Inspire Group Asia CEO, James McCulloch, about doing business in Malaysia during COVID-19.

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Export support
Last updated: 10 Jun 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: Viet Nam market overview, 29 May

NZTE Trade Commissioner Karlene Davis talks to PwC Viet Nam Chairman Grant Dennis, and NZTE BDM Giang Nguyen, about the situation in Viet Nam.

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Export support
Last updated: 8 Jun 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: Japan Food and Beverage, 29 May

NZTE Trade Commissioner, Craig Pettigrew, speaks with Zespri's Ichiro Anzai, Freshco's Greg Cross & Cookie Time's Jason Allen about business in Japan.

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Export support
Last updated: 14 May 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: Malaysia Food & Beverage, 14 May

NZTE Trade Commissioner for Malaysia, Simon Hearsey, NZTE BDM, MiYee Ching, and Beachhead Advisor, Jeremy Ng, discuss Malaysia's F&B market.

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Export support
Last updated: 18 May 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: Malaysia overview, 14 May

NZTE Trade Commissioner for Malaysia, Simon Hearsey, speaks with BDM Fizal Fauzi and Beachhead Advisor Andrew Goodwin about the situation in Malaysia.

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Export support
Last updated: 18 May 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: Thailand overview, 7 May

NZTE Beachhead Advisor, Paul Dibbayawan, and NZTE BDM, Jane Tantakhom, spoke with NZTE Trade Commissioner Ryan Freer about the situation in Thailand.

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Export support
Last updated: 28 Apr 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: South Korea overview, 29 April

Philip Turner, NZ Ambassador to South Korea, speaks with Craig Pettigrew (NZTE Trade Commissioner, East Asia) about his advice to NZ exporters.

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Export support
Last updated: 27 Apr 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: Japan overview, 28 April

Craig Pettigrew (NZTE Trade Commissioner, East Asia) spoke to Beachhead Advisor Sam Cassels and NZTE Business Development Manager Shintaro Nakamura.

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Export support
Last updated: 22 Apr 2020
Podcast: NZTE's Clare Wilson on the robustness of East Asia exports

NZTE's Regional Director for East Asia, Clare Wilson, appeared on the Asia Hustle podcast to offer insights and challenges...

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Economy and trade

New growth forecasts for real gross domestic product (GDP) are mixed.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) figures show Malaysia's real GDP is predicted to grow at a rate of 9% next year, while Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Viet Nam are forecast to expand by 8.2%, 6.1%, 7.6% and 7%, respectively. Japan and Singapore are predicted to grow at a rate of 3%.

The region fared well in the Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Index for Q1 2020, with the Philippines, Indonesia and Viet Nam ranking in the top four most positive consumers (behind India, at number one). Viet Nam's economy unexpectedly expanded in the second quarter, rising by 0.36% from April to June compared to the same period last year.

Asian markets rose in late April, buoyed by an easing of COVID-19 lockdown measures in some countries, though the advances remain capped by concern that the reopenings could spark a second wave of infections.

There are concerns for Asian manufacturing industries that may be impacted by retail shutdowns in the US and Europe. There are reports of retailers suspending and cancelling clothing orders, threatening millions of factory jobs in Asia.

Tourism operators are amongst those expected to be hardest hit by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. With many forecasters predicting the downturn to last 12 months or more, small- and medium-size operators throughout East Asia, particularly in tourism-reliant areas of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, are not expected to make it through to the recovery period.

It is a difficult time for startups as well, with investment in the region down about 30% in 2019 from the previous year. While investors were already cautious, the pandemic hit the global economy and capital markets in the first quarter, making it even harder for startups to raise funds.

There are no known additional sanitary or phytosanitary requirements required by governments on market access for primary sector exports and imports due to COVID-19, but there may be demand changes and delivery delays. Visit the MPI alerts page for the most up-to-date information.

New Zealand has already taken action to secure the trade of necessities and medical supplies with Singapore, and the two countries have committed to look at the trade of necessities to ensure it is not disrupted.

On 15 April, New Zealand and Singapore announced the Declaration on Trade in Essential Goods, identifying over 120 essential goods for which the two nations will remove all tariffs.

The list of goods includes PPE equipment, medical equipment, nutritional products, medicines and hygiene supplies. The Declaration also calls for participants not to apply export restrictions on food and beverage products, and to facilitate trade in food and beverage.

See the full list of products covered by the Declaration here.

The commitment between Singapore and New Zealand through the Declaration on Trade in Essential Goods and the positive effects from the agreement so far were outlined in an article for the Straits Times by New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore, Jo Tyndall, that can be accessed here (via free sign-up).

The open plurilateral initiative has since been signed up to by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Laos, Myanmar, Nauru, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Government expenditure across Asia will likely surge in 2020 to keep economies afloat. Stimulus packages in the region include government programmes with funding for training and supporting the worst affected industries, such as air travel and hospitality.

Supply chain, logistics & freight

While freight services have continued, seaports, airports and carriers in New Zealand and Asia are working with reduced staff and capabilities and some delays have been reported.

Seaport hubs, including Singapore, have halted most crew transfers, while global lockdowns have complicated travel from the Philippines, which supplies about a quarter of the world's seafarers. These restrictions are straining the ability for shipping firms to replace seafarers, further weakening global supply chains already snarled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New Zealand Government has fast-tracked up to NZ$1 million to help Air New Zealand move urgent freight to and from New Zealand. Transport Minister Phil Twyford says Air New Zealand flights will be loaded with time-sensitive New Zealand exports and will return carrying essential goods and equipment. Exporters can find more details about the air freight service here.

A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade report on Monitoring International Supply Chains identified the following as major factors affecting supply chains:

  • Labour shortages. The shutdown of factories and lack of manpower to load and unload cargo as well as drivers to operate trucks for cargo evacuation has affected the export-import trade and in turn the smooth functioning of the logistics industry. A reduction in customs and quarantine staff is leading to delays in clearing goods. Some industries may face labour shortages once the lockdown eases and workers are able to return home.

  • Reduction of border crossings affecting cross-border shipment of goods. For example, in Viet Nam goods that come from China are facing a backlog at the border due to delayed processing times and closure of many of the smaller border gates.

  • Third-country supply chain disruptions such as the introduction of export bans or factory closures in third markets.

  • Issues with courier services not operating- hindering paperwork delivery associated with consignments.

  • Restaurants, hospitality, and the tourism industry in most South East Asian markets are largely shut down, so there is little demand for high-quality or luxury goods.

Mainfreight reports that its teams in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam, and South Korea all advise that they remain operational and open as normal. Mainfreight Malaysia has advised that the Government there has introduced similar social and business operating restrictions as those currently in place in New Zealand.

While businesses engaged in food production for export are considered essential, employers are asked to take extra care to keep employees safe in line with Government recommendations for safe working conditions during the lockdown.

For those businesses with products that can adapt to retail-ready formats, there is an opportunity for sales in Asian markets. The increased duration of local movement restrictions will place inventory levels under pressure, and listing opportunities will open up even under the current conditions. The ability to supply quickly will be key.

This checklist from Gartner, Aon and DHL includes some of the ways companies might encounter supply chain disruptions over the next 6 to 12 months, and tips for handling them.

Meanwhile, this infographic contains an excellent checklist of measures your business can take to help your supply chain resilience.

Other useful links:

Government support

The economic impact from lost productivity and a dramatic drop in tourism and hospitality is beginning to result in government action, by way of financial aid packages for certain sectors and cuts in GDP forecasts.

ASEAN economic ministers issued a joint statement from Da Nang on 11 March emphasising the importance of solidarity, and agreeing that restrictions on cross-border movements should be based on public health priorities, and should not unnecessarily restrict regional trade.

The ASEAN ministers announced an intention to keep the market open for trade and investment, to strengthen regional information sharing and collaboration in responding to the economic challenges brought about by the outbreak, and to work with industry stakeholders to instil confidence in Southeast Asia as a trade, investment and tourism hub.

On 1 May, New Zealand’s Minister for Trade and Export Growth, David Parker, agreed to facilitate the resumption of essential cross-border travel while balancing public health considerations amid the COVID-19 pandemic with his counterparts from Singapore and South Korea, as well as Australia and Canada. Guidelines will be established to facilitate such travel, which should be for the purposes of maintaining global supply chains.

It was also agreed to expedite Customs procedures and refrain from introducing export restrictions on essential items such as food and medical supplies, as well as ensure that logistics networks continue to operate via air, sea and land freight.


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) currently advises against all non-essential international travel for New Zealanders to any destination. Please refer to Safetravel for the latest information for Kiwi travellers.

A surge of new cases has prompted sweeping new travel restrictions between nations and social distancing measures within cities and communities.

However, Singapore – often considered East Asia's financial capital and one of its leading air travel hubs – is now permitting passengers to transit through Changi Airport from selected cities in Australia and New Zealand to any destination in the airline’s group network operated by Singapore Airlines, SilkAir or Scoot.

The transit flights are only for outbound journeys from Australian cities Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, as well as New Zealand cities Auckland and Christchurch.

Passengers will not be able to transit from other places in the group network through Singapore into these cities.

Customers should ensure that they meet the entry requirements for their final destination.

Singapore Airlines has restarted passenger flights between Auckland and Christchurch.

Air New Zealand will resume a once-a-week return passenger service between Auckland and Narita, Japan, on 25 June – although New Zealand nationals will be denied permission to enter Japan unless there are exceptional circumstances, and two weeks of quarantine on arrival applies in both countries.

New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, has spoken with Japan’s Foreign Minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, and agreed to proceed with discussions on resuming travel permissions between the two countries. Japan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the countries have been in touch, saying that prevention of the spread of infection and achieving economic recovery are important for both countries.

The Japan Times reports that Japan is considering resuming travel for business visitors from Australia, Thailand and Viet Nam, in addition to New Zealand. A quota of 250 business people per day across these countries is under discussion.

Tourism-reliant Thailand is also considering forming a travel bubble with New Zealand, China, South Korea, Viet Nam, and Australia, according to reports.

Consumer behaviour changes

Re-evaluating the market in the wake of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating challenges for every sector, and exporters have as many questions as any on how to best navigate the difficulties of the months ahead.

It's not surprising that in response to rapidly tightening travel restrictions, business closures and government enforced isolation, consumer needs and delivery channel preferences are changing. How can exporters to the region keep up and respond appropriately, without appearing opportunistic

Changes in media consumption

Exporters are encouraged to keep up to date with changes in media consumption and adjust their marketing spend accordingly during this turbulent time. While it is impossible to lump East Asian nations together in a one-description-fits-all approach, there are insights from specific markets that New Zealand exporters might like to investigate when reviewing their marketing strategies:

Consumer centric content is even more important

While there is value in maintaining a marketing programme in a time of crisis, the content and direction of messaging will likely need to adapt to audience needs and be sympathetic to potential supply or other consumer issues. Community-building through empathetic social media communication or direct mail may be preferable over product-focused mass media campaigns.

This may also be the time to focus on the consumer's path to purchase, and to take stock of channels and supply partners to improve the online experience.

Adapting to new consumer behaviours

There has been an opportunity for exporters in some product categories to adapt to new shopping behaviours and find new customers. Categories such as personal hygiene products, packaged food and healthcare, have seen an increase in demand; particularly those with a strong online delivery service or supply partner. Exporters are encouraged to consider how these new customers might interact with the brand in a meaningful way and create a relationship that encourages repeat business once the need to adapt is removed.

For example, some Asian consumer segments traditionally reliant on restaurants and food delivery services may be trying their hand at cooking at home for the first time. If their experience is an enjoyable one, they may choose to keep up the practice, even if only occasionally, once restaurants open again.

Online services and cloud computing products are also well positioned to find new audiences, with the benefits of e-commerce and B2B products such as remote working software and online education in higher demand than ever. By demonstrating the advantages of these products beyond the immediate need and into other areas such as ease-of-use, time and cost efficiencies, there may be an opportunity for businesses to sustain their advantage beyond the current crisis and create new business and lifestyle habits.

Where possible, brands should embrace change rather than try and resist. For example, face masks may seem like a serious challenge for beauty brands, but according to business intelligence agency Mintel, there is no better time to encourage consumers to continue looking and feeling their best; while staying home or out with masks on. It recommends brands in Asia act fast to gain the competitive edge in leading and driving mask makeup trends.

Using this time of unprecedented change to create stronger, trusted relationships with customers, and improved channel delivery will likely prove very valuable in the long term when business returns to 'normal'.

Sector insights

As is to be expected, numerous sectors have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Below you’ll find information on any COVID-19 effects across important sectors and industries in Asia.

Asia Development Bank projects

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved US$1.5 billion in financing to support each of the Governments of Indonesia and the Philippines to alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 on public health, livelihoods, and the economy. This funding is available for projects throughout Asia Pacific in fields including health response, emergency social protection support, and economic stimulus.

There are also some non-sovereign operations to support the private sector, from the ADB’s Trade Finance Program and Supply Chain Finance Program, both of which were increased in size by over US$1 billion for the COVID-19 response.

There is an interesting ongoing initiative to map — end-to-end — the entire supply chain for seven critical pandemic-fighting goods, such as ventilators and N95 masks. Maps will be published for banks, investors and the government to ensure there are no bottlenecks and financial support is available to ramp up supply.

Beyond the emergency budget support, the ADB will continue to lend at the same pre-crisis levels in future years, so it depends on what countries decide to prioritise. As part of the economic recovery, infrastructure remains a priority for many countries, particularly projects with strong multiplier effects and that create jobs locally. Some projects that are in the pipeline (in the Country Operations Business Plans) will continue but some may not. Engaging with the relevant ADB project officer is the best way to find out what the status of a project is.

Project implementation has been affected by lockdowns, travel restrictions, and disruptions to supply chains for materials. ADB’s procurement department is developing some guidance on additional health and safety provisions to be enforced in works contracts moving forward. They noted that several countries, including New Zealand, have already issued similar guidance and they are analysing those.

Health was already becoming an increasing priority for ADB and its members under Strategy 2030. How much, and what it supports, will depend on member country priorities. For example, some may want support for new health infrastructure or diagnostics and vaccines, some might be in supporting private sector companies that produce medical supplies and PPE, some might be policy reforms in the health sector that they receive budget support for, and digital transformation in health is likely to be an increasing trend.

For more on the ADB funding of projects, see here or contact your NZTE Customer Manager.

Market overviews


Updates on COVID-19 impacts in Singapore.


Updates on COVID-19 impacts in Indonesia.


Updates on COVID-19 impacts in Japan.


Updates on COVID-19 impacts in Malaysia.


Updates on COVID-19 impacts in the Philippines.

South Korea

Updates on COVID-19 impacts in South Korea.


Updates on COVID-19 impacts in Thailand.

Viet Nam

Updates on COVID-19 impacts in Viet Nam.

Additional resources

Below you can find information and contact details for other New Zealand government and international agencies regarding their response to COVID-19.

New Zealand Government agencies
COVID-19 helpline for businesses
New Zealand Customs
Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)
New Zealand Export Credit (NZEC)
MFAT Export Helpline
MFAT Safetravel
Callaghan Innovation
Ministry of Health
WorkSafe New Zealand

Global agencies

World Health Organization (WHO)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Contact NZTE

We're available to talk to you about any issues your export business is facing due to COVID-19.

For existing NZTE customers, please contact your New Zealand-based Customer Manager.

If you're unsure who to contact or haven't worked with us before, you can call NZTE on 0800 555 888 or email below and one of our Customer Advisors will help you.