State by State: ASEAN and California Trade

Posted by Reading Time: 7 minutes


By Chris Devonshire-Ellis, Dezan Shira & Associates

As can be expected, ASEAN and its component countries in Asia represent a multi-billion dollar industry in California. In 2012, Californian goods and services being exported to ASEAN reached US$14.59 billion. This represents six percent of California’s total exports.

Of that figure, US$11.45 billion were goods, with the top five categories being:

  • Computers & electronic products
  • Machinery
  • Food & related consumables 
  • Transportation equipment
  • Chemicals

90,057 Californian jobs are supported by exports to ASEAN, with some 44,850 directly supported. California’s trade statistics, however, do not properly identify ASEAN as a trade bloc. If it did, it would show that ASEAN conducts more trade with California than Japan and is the State’s fourth largest trade partner globally, after Mexico, Canada and China. That is an important distinction, as the ASEAN nations, currently identified individually in terms of trade partners, are in fact a multilateral free trade area. The non-recognizance of that is a fault within the make-up and understanding of California’s total trade balance with Asia, and hinders the promotion of bilateral trade opportunities between California and ASEAN.

For example, while California has a trade office in Shanghai, it does not have one in Singapore. That is a potential oversight, because Singapore is the de facto trade hub for the ASEAN region and possesses a preferential Free Trade Agreement with the United States in its own right. These are vital strategic parts of California’s trade relations with ASEAN, yet are perhaps not being properly promoted as tools for trade development.

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We can break down Californian trade with the largest countries in ASEAN as follows:


In 2014, California exported US$707 million in merchandise to Indonesia. The top five merchandise exports in 2014 were:

  • Food manufactures
  • Chemicals
  • Agricultural Products
  • Waste and Scrap
  • Machinery, except electrical

In 2014, California imported USD$4.947 billion from Indonesia, up 0.5 percent from 2013. Indonesia was ranked 14th in imports to California in 2014. California imports roughly four times as much product as it sells to Indonesia.


In 2014, California exported US$2.273 billion in merchandise to Malaysia. Malaysia ranked 19th in exports from California in 2014. Top 5 merchandise exports in 2014 were:

  • Computer and electronic products
  • Machinery, except electrical
  • Food Manufactures
  • Chemicals
  • Waste and scrap

Malaysia was the 14th largest market for California agricultural exports in 2011-12, and was the 15th largest in 2012-13. Californian agricultural exports to Malaysia in 2013 were valued at US$183 million.

In 2014, California imported US$14.062 billion from Malaysia, up 23.9 percent from 2013. Malaysia ranked sixth in imports to California.

Related-Reading-Icon-Asean Link State by State: China and California Trade

Important TPP tariffs for California include:

  • CA exports of pumps and compressors faced a rate of up to 30 percent in 2011
  • CA imports of man-made fiber sweaters faced a rate of 32 percent in 2013
  • CA imports of men’s synthetic fiber pants faced a rate of 28.2 percent in 2013

These rates can be expected to be significantly reduced should the TPP come into play.

Malaysia exports to California a multiple of seven times the goods it receives from the state.

The Philippines

In 2014, California exported US$1.574 billion in merchandise to the Philippines. The Philippines ranked 24th in exports from California in 2014. In 2005, the merchandise export figure was US$1.148 billion. 

Top 5 merchandise exports in 2014 were:

  • Computer and electronic products
  • Food Manufactures
  • Transportation Equipment
  • Machinery, except electrical
  • Chemicals

The Philippines was the 13th largest market for California agricultural exports in 2011-12, and was the 14th largest in 2012-13. California agricultural exports to the Philippines in 2013 were valued at US$197 million.

In 2014, the Philippines was also the 4th largest market for California grape exports. In 2013, the Philippines was the 13th largest market for California wine exports. The total value was US$9.11 million, up 18 percent from 2012. In 2014, California imported US$3.61 billion from the Philippines, up 19.9 percent from 2013, representing a multiple of three times trade volume in the Philippines’ favor.


In 2014, California exported US$4.563 billion in merchandise to Singapore, up 9.6 percent from 2013. Singapore ranked 12th in exports from California in 2014. In 2005, the merchandise export figure was US$3.787 billion. 

Top 5 merchandise exports are:

  • Computer and electronic products
  • Machinery, except electrical
  • Petroleum & coal products
  • Transportation Equipment
  • Chemicals

In 2014, Singapore was the 10th largest market for California wine exports. The total value was US$16 million, up 33 percent from 2012. In 2014, California imported US$3.87 billion from Singapore, down 13 percent from 2013. Singapore ranked 16th in imports to California, and is the only major ASEAN nation that imports more from California than it exports.

Related-Reading-Icon-Asean Link State by State: India and California Trade


In 2014, California exported US$1.797 billion in merchandise to Thailand. The country ranked 23rd in exports from California in 2014. In 2005, the merchandise export figure was US$1.699 billion. 

Top 5 merchandise exports are:

  • Computer and electronic products
  • Miscellaneous manufactured commodities
  • Food Manufactures
  • Transportation Equipment
  • Chemicals

In 2013, Thailand was the 18th largest market for California wine exports. The total value was US$6.28 million, up 7.39 percent from 2012. In 2014, California imported USD3.87 billion from Thailand, up four percent from 2013. Thailand ranked 10th in imports to California.


Our detailed overview on California’s trade with Vietnam can be found here.


As can be seen, Californian trade with ASEAN is robust, although it has dipped a little over the past 18 months. Agriculture and related products remain an important trade part of the bilateral picture. However, while California faces west and across to Asia, not enough has been done to develop trade relations with the ASEAN nations, despite them being relatively close. Demonstrating this is a list of California’s twinned cities, which shows 29 ASEAN cities. Over 50 percent of these are in the Philippines and most are relatively small towns. It would be wise for California to improve relations with larger cities in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand especially. Singapore, the regional ASEAN hub, is not linked with any Californian city.

It should also be noted that California’s per capita GDP average is some US$46,029, compared with Singapore’s US$55,182. While is remains true that the trade balance between ASEAN and California is heavily skewed in ASEANs favor, an increasingly affluent ASEAN consumer middle class is being developed. Middle class and wealthy consumers in ASEAN cities such as Surabaya in Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and Bangkok in Thailand are now driving around in Ferraris and wearing the latest designs. These are markets where California’s up-market products can make a large impact. An example of this trend is that ASEAN will be the world’s fifth largest auto market within the next five years. 

California has a long history of trade with Asia. The state’s policies have reaped significant benefits in bilateral trade with Japan, South Korea and China, who along with Mexico and Canada make up the top five trade partners for the state. According to 2014 figures released by the Californian Chamber of Commerce, trade with South Korea was US$8.58 billion, and officially California’s fifth largest. Yet when ASEAN is considered as a whole, its trade volume is larger at some US$14.59 billion. In fact, California did more trade with ASEAN than it did with China. This means that the development of ASEAN as a Free Trade area by Californian institutions and businesses is not being properly recognized. An adjustment of how the State views ASEAN as a single trade entity is therefore required, and perhaps more attention to detail paid to developing trade links and opportunities with the collective ASEAN bloc. If this is done, Californian businesses and the state’s trade will generate better bilateral figures than is currently the case. 

Further Support from Dezan Shira & Associates

Dezan Shira & Associates can service California-based companies that are looking to further develop their operation in ASEAN. The firm can help companies establish a direct office in the country and can guide them through the affiliated tax, legal and HR issues that come with doing so. To arrange a free consultation, please contact our U.S. office at


Asia Briefing Ltd. is a subsidiary of Dezan Shira & Associates. Dezan Shira is a specialist foreign direct investment practice, providing corporate establishment, business advisory, tax advisory and compliance, accounting, payroll, due diligence and financial review services to multinationals investing in China, Hong Kong, India, Vietnam, Singapore and the rest of ASEAN. For further information, please email or visit

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