General region overview

Countries in East Asia have experienced varying fortunes in their dealings with COVID-19, leading to diverse paths for government intervention and flow on effects for their economies.

While the majority of the eight countries have opened up sectors of their economies with special distancing and hygiene requirements, there is some trepidation around the stability of this new “normalcy”, with the potential for third and further waves of community spread to cause new rounds of movement restrictions, lockdowns, and economic loss.

However, there is cautious optimism that Asia is well placed to recover from the pandemic, having learned valuable lessons from previous respiratory illness scares and financial shocks. The region’s generally well established ecommerce channels have also helped ease transition away from in-person shopping and dining.

Despite these positive indications for the future, significant damage has already occurred, and the effects are likely to linger to a different extent for each country and each industry. New economic stimulus packages have been introduced in 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.

Opportunities have become apparent for those willing to work with in-market partners and adapt. Many Asian companies are open to virtual meetings where previously only face-to-face interactions, particularly for first introductions, would suffice. There are new ways of working that may bring partnerships within reach.

One of the greatest obstacles for New Zealand goods exporters has been the availability of cargo space. Sea freight is now back to normal capacity, and as flight capacity grows month by month, pricing and availability should become more accessible, although are not likely to return to pre-COVID levels before the end of the year.

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

Resources for Asia

More resources available here.

Export support
Last updated: 25 Aug 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: Allpress Espresso in Singapore, August 2020

Allpress Espresso Regional GM for Singapore and East Asia, Scott Redfern, shares insights on how the business has changed and pivoted during COVID-19.

Watch now
Export support
Thought leadership
3 mins
Last updated: 22 Jul 2020
Staying ahead during Japan’s recovery

NZTE Trade Commissioner for Japan, Craig Pettigrew, shares 3 crucial steps to help exporters navigate COVID-19 & emerge stronger with local partners.

Read more
Export support
Last updated: 19 Jul 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: South Korea update, 1 July

NZTE's TC to Korea, Stephen Blair, talks to NZ Ambassador Philip Turner about new opportunities in South Korea & the long-term outlook for exporters.

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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.

Watch now

Economy and trade

Government expenditure across Asia has surged as national and local authorities find ways and means to keep their economies afloat; by government bonds and/or loans from international institutions. Stimulus packages in the region include government programmes with funding for training and supporting the worst affected industries, such as air travel and hospitality.

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%.

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. Japan, which invested heavily in tourism for the 2020 Olympics, will be hit hard by the Games' postponement to 2021.

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.

In April this year, 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.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s bilateral relationship with Viet Nam was formally elevated in July 2020 with the strengthening of the 2009 Comprehensive Partnership to Strategic Partnership, focussing on trade, agriculture, education, and development.

Both governments committed to individual and joint actions to open markets and reduce barriers to bilateral trade, especially for agricultural, seafood, and timber products through enhancing market access, trade facilitation, information exchange, and collaboration between customs, and agriculture, food safety, and animal health agencies.

New Zealand and Viet Nam have also committed to promoting investment in both directions and encouraging inclusive growth,including cooperation in the development of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), indigenous or ethnic minorities businesses, women entrepreneurs and other important areas.

Supply chain, logistics & freight

Issues with availability and reliability of sea freight experienced in the first half of 2020 have now largely been resolved.

Air freight, however, remains a challenge in those countries where direct links have been suspended. Limited direct flights have resumed to Singapore, Korea and Japan, however schedules are changeable month to month, and freight costs are higher - but progressively reducing.

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 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.


Please note: all travellers returning to New Zealand are subject to a mandatory 14-day stay at a Government-managed hotel. Managed isolation charges for those returning to New Zealand have come into force from Tuesday 11th August. Find out more here.

In addition, Air New Zealand continues to operate a reduced network for international operations through to 24 October 2020. More information here.

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.

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

From 1 September 2020, the Singapore Government allows travellers from New Zealand and some other countries to enter Singapore subject to a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival. The arrangements are not yet reciprocal, and New Zealand’s borders remain closed to non-citizens and residents.

Singapore Airlines has restarted passenger flights between Auckland and Christchurch.

Air New Zealand  has resumed a once-a-week return passenger service between Auckland and Narita, Japan – 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.

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:

  • A move to online purchasing

  • An increase in digital media consumption

  • An increase in television media consumption

  • A decrease in out-of-home media consumption

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.