The soft drink market is one of the fastest growing in the world with annual sales close to US$1 trillion. However, with consumers being more health conscious than ever, activists are pushing for a new sugar tax in ASEAN.

Despite resistance from major players in the market, some countries have already implemented a sugar tax. Other nations in Southeast Asia are looking to follow as well.

Obesity’s rise and its effects on society now has research backing it up. According to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, the rise in global obesity rates is widespread and presents a major public health epidemic in both the developed and developing world. Nearly 30% of the global population is classified as “obese”.

The research indicated the rise in obesity rates could lead to a decline in life expectancy. A key finding is that 50% of the obese population resided in just ten nations. They include the US, China, Mexico, India, and Indonesia.


Global Beverage Industry is a Target

Many activists believe the size and the growth of the soft drink market is a driving factor of global obesity. Most of these drinks are classified as “empty calories” giving scant nutrition.

Led by the two global brands Coca-Cola and PepsiCo with a value of about US$870 billion, the global soft drink market is huge. It’s growing at a rapid pace, yet the growth is still not what many people would think.

The soft drink market is not growing on a worldwide basis. In developed markets, growth is actually negative as more people embrace a “healthy lifestyle” and switch to other alternatives.

Main drivers of growth for this market are emerging economies such as India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. All of these countries are looking to implement a sugar tax.

Each of these three nations also saw double digit growth in their soft drink markets for the past 5 years according to Euromonitor.

India saw its market size for soft drinks double between 2010 and 2015. Indonesia and the Philippines also saw monumental increases of 45% and 30% in retail value respectively.

However, simply knowing the growth figures isn’t enough to see just how much bigger these markets are becoming. India and Indonesia are ranked the sixth and eighth largest markets for soft drinks. Each consume between 23 and 24 billion liters of soda annually.


Will a Sugar Tax in ASEAN Even Work?

There have also been debates on whether the implementation of such a tax would actually improve public health. As these countries consider the viability of a sugar tax, the expected move meets resistance from the very businesses watching their demise take form.

Mexico was the case study in a recent debate about the tax’s impact. Having just put into place a tax on sugary food and drinks, Mexico saw the public consumption of taxed items go down and the consumption of non-taxed items such as bottled water go up.

Even though Mexico claims the “successful implementation” of the tax made them a “leader in public health,” many others believe that the tax only shifts people’s purchases from taxed items to non-taxed items which are also part of the “empty calories” section of food.

The health impact may be up for debate, but the business impact is not. Analysts say the tax would undoubtedly harm businesses – especially smaller ones which couldn’t absorb the extra costs.

MNCs like Coca Cola have voiced their concerns about a possible sugar tax. They said that the move would lead to a sharp decline in sales and inevitably force factories to close, particularly in India.

With countries in Southeast Asia looking at a sugar tax to improve public health and increase tax revenue, more places will certainly follow the trend.

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About Reid Kirchenbauer

Reid Kirchenbauer is the Founder of InvestAsian. He's an accomplished stock trader and property investor in Thailand, Cambodia, and many other places. He's been featured in publications such as Forbes, Nomad Capitalist, Property Report, and Seeking Alpha. Download his free investment guide by clicking here.

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