European businesses are planning to expand their investment and operations in the Asean region but want to see more trade deals between the two regions according to a recent survey that polled 200 executives from European countries in the region.

The latest annual EU-Asean Business Sentiment Survey, finds that 74% of European businesses project a rise in Asean profits for 2016 and expect the region’s importance to global revenues to increase over the next five years.

As a result, two thirds plan to expand operations and employment in the region while 85% are planning to increase their regional trade and investment.

Businesses in the region say they are keen to see strengthened ties between the EU and Asean with 66% of them expressing interest in a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two regions. Over half the respondents say they feel they are at a competitive disadvantage without an FTA.

The survey also highlights that small businesses are still struggling with policy challenges as 52% of respondents say that trade barriers are hampering supply chain efficiency, while 44% report facing unfair competition from local and regional incumbents, including state-owned and government-linked enterprises.

Based on survey findings, the EU-Asean Business Council (EU-ABC) says it is calling for the acceleration of the process for an EU-Asean FTA and for speedier conclusions to existing bilateral FTA negotiations.

Commenting on the results, EU-ABC chairman Donald Kanak says: “The survey shows strong support for a substantive and meaningful EU Asean FTA to support sustained European investment in the region, and the EU-Asean Business.

“Council urges leaders from the EU and Asean to work together toward that end, and in the meantime the rapid conclusion of bilateral FTA negotiations between the EU and Asean member states.”