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A Guide To Doing Business With Tiger Cub Economies

Business · 3 min read

Doing Business With Tiger Cub Economies Guide

What are the world’s fastest growing large economies? You probably already know about Brazil, Russia, India and China. Together they’re the ‘BRIC’ countries – the supercharged economies set to drive global growth over the next 100 years. And that means they should play a big part in any exporter’s plans.

But they’re not the only players in an ever-expanding globalized marketplace. There's the 'next 11', a high-growth, high-potential group that includes countries like Mexico, Iran, Pakistan and Egypt. But there's another group of countries that are often – and mistakenly – ignored by exporters: the Tiger Cubs. 

On the trail of the Tiger Cub economies

In Southeast Asia, five countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – are powering ahead with growth rates of around 5%. Economists have dubbed these five countries ‘The Tiger Cubs’, in recognition of their proximity and similarity to the original ‘Tiger Economies’, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. The Tiger Economies accelerated from primarily agrarian economies to fully developed, high-income industrialized nations in just a few decades between the 1950s and 1990s. And that’s exactly what the Tiger Cubs are doing today.

Indonesia is the biggest player. So much so that a number of organizations, including the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), think Indonesia’s turbocharged long-term growth warrants its inclusion in the BRIC countries (making it ‘BRIIC’). The shrewd exporter will also keep an eye on Malaysia, which has the highest import demand per person of all the Tiger Cub economies.

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The opportunity for exporters like you

E-commerce across all of the Tiger Cubs is growing. Moving from low or middle income to high income countries means Southeast Asia is a hotbed of e-commerce growth. Indonesia, the largest of the Tiger Cubs by population, leads the way: it has the largest number of online consumers (83 million) and the fastest growth rate of online consumers (this category has grown 74% between 2016 and 2017). The region's online consumer base exploded by 50% in 2017, to around 200 million people. It's important to be realistic about e-commerce in the Tiger Cub economies; it's still a niche channel of about 3% of total retail sales. But it's expected to rise to 10-15% in the coming years. So if you're in the e-commerce sphere, now is the time to make your move.

Let’s get to know each of the Tiger Cubs a little better


The largest economy in Southeast Asia by GDP and the fourth largest country by population in the world. A huge opportunity for any exporter.

  • GDP per capita US$12,400
  • Population 261 million
  • Growth rate 5.1% (2017)
  • Unemployment rate 4.3%
  • Import demand: US$600 per capita
  • Online shopping audience growth: 74%

What are businesses and consumers buying in Indonesia? 

Growth products include petroleum, zinc ore, non-powered aircraft, military goods, steam turbines, coconut oil, cocoa butter, and video camera equipment.

Did you know?

If you’re not sure how to get started exporting to Indonesia, our team of certified international shipping experts are here to help. Sign up for a DHL Account here.


The richest country of the Tiger Cub group, Malaysia boasts healthy growth and low unemployment. Despite its success, wage growth has taken off as expected, but it beats all other Tiger Cub economies for labor productivity and density of knowledge-based industries. 

  • GDP per capita US$29k
  • Population 32 million
  • Growth rate 5.9% (2017)
  • Unemployment rate 3.4%
  • Import demand: US$6,200 per capita
  • Online shopping audience growth: 13%

What are businesses and consumers buying in Malaysia? 

Railway cars, telephones, raw silk, copper ore and similar metals, video camera equipment, footwear, and foodstuffs like rapeseed.  

Did you know?

DHL has recently rolled out a fleet of environmentally friendly all-electric motorbikes in Malaysia and Vietnam.

The Philippines

Delivering, alongside Vietnam, the fastest growth of the Tiger Cubs, this is a hot market of 100 million people. Not to be underestimated, it is the world's 34th largest economy by GDP. 

  • GDP per capita US$8,300
  • Population 100 million
  • Growth rate 6.7% (2017)
  • Unemployment rate 5.3%
  • Import demand: US$950 per capita
  • Online shopping audience growth: 13%

What are businesses and consumers buying in the Philippines? 

Circuits, petroleum, wool, boats and ships, steel, electromagnets, and steam boilers.

Did you know?

By 2050, The Philippines is projected to be the 16th biggest economy in the world.


Thailand has grand plans to keep up with neighboring Indonesia. Unveiled in 2016, ‘Thailand 4.0’ is the government’s master plan to make Thailand a high-income nation in five years’ time.

  • GDP per capita $17,900
  • Population 68 million
  • Growth rate 3.9% (2017)
  • Unemployment rate 0.9%
  • Import demand: $3,300 per capita
  • Online shopping audience growth: 58%

What are people buying in Thailand? 

Transport and railway goods, foodstuffs like vegetables and spices, telephones, and camera equipment.

Did you know?

Despite taking second place behind Indonesia, Thailand imports more than its neighbor: each year US$158bn of goods enter Indonesia compared to US$225bn into Thailand.



It's all too easy to think of Vietnam as a minor player in the Tiger Cub economies, but it's an equal to The Philippines – strong growth, low unemployment and home to a powerhouse investment centre, Ho Chi Minh City.

  • GDP per capita US$6,900
  • Population 94 million
  • Growth rate 6.8% (2017)
  • Unemployment rate 2.2%
  • Import demand: US$2,400 per capita
  • Online shopping audience growth: 63%

What are businesses and consumers buying in Vietnam? 

Circuit boards, aluminum, iron ore, batteries, shoes and hats, and transport-related goods like trains and aircraft.

Did you know?

DHL now offers a same-day delivery service in Vietnam. 

The Tiger Cubs are home to more than 550 million people. That’s a sizeable potential market. In fact, the combined GDP of The Tiger Cubs is US$2.3trn. Indonesia accounts for the largest chunk of this total, at 36.5%, followed by Thailand at 16%. But by 2022 the Philippines is likely to surpass Thailand as the second-largest economy in the region. 

How do I export to the Tiger Cub countries? 

It's easy. Simply sign up for a DHL Account today. You'll get access to over 220 countries and regions across the world, including our long-established services in all of the Tiger Cub countries, served by our international hub based in Hong Kong

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