03 April 2017
Here it comes


Business operating costs are lower in Asia than in Australia mainly due to regulatory impositions, according to Glen Robinson.

There have been many comments in relation to the operating costs in Asia and how much lower they are when compared to Australian costs. The commentary usually revolves around the cost of labour, and the “need” to reduce that cost. This analysis clearly shows that while labour costs are a factor, the major factor is what we have termed as Cost of Doing Business, CODB, all those regulatory impositions which add cost to any endeavour


There is often the debate about the cost of goods produced or processed in the countries of Asia compared to some of the more developed economies in the western world. Most of the commentary seems to revolve around the differences in the cost of labour, however, the hypothesis tested in this analysis is that is only half the story as the “Red Tape” effect is quite significant.

Labour costs are a component of the significant cost differential, but it is not the most significant. The concept of Cost of Doing Business [CODB] is explored and while no attempt has been made to actually define CODB, it may be very loosely described as all those other factors and costs, including profit, which are not directly related to labour costs.

This analysis demonstrates that the CODB factor is extremely high and can be a main reason for high costs in most operations particularly in both manufacturing and distribution. In a western country the CODB may be 4 times of that in a developing Asian country.


It is extremely difficult to evaluate the effect of labour costs on the economy, and the usual approach is to list out the average or other measure of direct labour costs, and of course, using that method, Australia is one of the leaders in average wages.

In this analysis the adopted method was to identify a relatively small business which would, or perhaps more correctly, should, be essentially the same in a number of cities and that would allow cross border comparisons. While the ideal may be to have access to the financial structures of a cross border company, that is most unlikely to be readily available.

There are very few businesses in which many of the cost inputs should be common, so cross border comparisons are difficult to make. For this analysis we have identified one business which theoretically should have the same cost structure across most economies excluding the labour component, particularly in relation to capital costs of equipment, and the most significant consumable, and if there are differences they can be attributed solely to the local factors of direct labour costs and CODB. That business is the operation of a taxi service.

The following cities selected for comparative analysis were:-

Sydney, Australia
New York, USA
Frankfurt, Germany
Paris, France
Auckland, New Zealand
Jakarta, Indonesia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Bangkok, Thailand
Makati, Philippines
Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam
Beijing, China
Mumbai, India


In attempts to identify a business which can be legitimately used for cross border comparative purposes, without compromising the confidentiality of the business itself the number is quite small. The owners or managers of a privately owned business or even a publically owned business are unlikely to allow a public examination of the cost structure of at least several of its businesses, and the taxi service has been deemed the most likely information source for several reasons:

· The service is basically common across the various countries

· The capital inputs are similar, ie a 5 seater motor vehicle, which are a common cost

· The major consumables, ie fuel, spares and replacement parts, should be a common cost.

· The taxi service generally is free standing business and is not part of an international ownership in which the operation and fare structure may be imposed from “head office”.

Any variations in those costs are almost certainly attributable to local requirements.

The other major cost, the labour associated with the driver, can be identified and treated separately, and when the labour is taken away from the total fare income, the remainder has been termed CODB. By definition CODB is all those costs except the direct labour cost.


There are at least 3 components to the hiring charges of a taxi

· The Start-up cost [or flag fall] which is independent of the distance to be travelled

· The cost per kilometre of travel [one way], and

· The waiting time [per hour] if the vehicle has to wait at the passenger’s request

It should be noted that “add-ons” are NOT included, and these may be surcharges for out-of-normal hours; long or short distances; number of passengers; specific locations, airports etc; use of credit cards for payment; tolls and entrance fees; VAT or GST or other government charges.


The Taxi total income are exclusively hiring fees which are a function of the day’s activities, and those have been estimated based on advice from the NSW Taxi Council office in Sydney which provided the basic statistics in relation to the daily hours for the taxi and the driver. There were 4 scenarios considered ranging from a very lightly loaded day through to an extremely busy day.


The Taxi hiring fees or service fees and how it is derived is certainly a function of the day’s activities, and the various costs associated with it.

It has been clearly demonstrated that the CODB is a significant part of the total income in both developing and developed countries, but the CODB in the developing countries is much lower than it is in the developed countries. The average daily CODB of those developed countries shown is $A401 and for the developing countries it is $A97, which implies that the developed countries are at least 4 times the cost of the developing countries in relation to CODB. The cost of labour is a significant cost in the developed economies, but it is less than the CODB.


The Big Max Index [BMI] was a light hearted invention by the Economist just over 30 years ago and it has endured the passage of time. It was developed to demonstrate the difference in currency values but it ignored the CODB, which as shown by the analysis in this presentation, can be quite significant. The current BMI for USA is $5.04, Australia is $4.30 and by comparison in Malaysia it is $1.99 and Indonesia $2.36. The average for the countries surveyed is Developing countries $2.64 and in developed it is $4.45.


We have seen the Uber service enter the market in Australia, much to the chagrin of the established taxi industry and the regulators. The Uber business structure is such that it attacks that portion of CODB which is not directly attributable to owning and driving a vehicle which has passengers, therefore all the additional costs, such as high level insurance, the capital cost of the taxi “plates”, the additional vehicle inspections etc are all avoided. At least for the short term.

These “disruptive” business structures will almost certainly increase in number as more experience is gained with the application of technology, and it is expected that measures will be developed and adopted to partially return to the status quo, however, it is anticipated that significant changes will still occur.


While this analysis may be seen as “approximate” the differences are so significant that minor variations would not change the hypothesis; that the Cost of Doing Business in Asia is significantly less than doing business in a developed country. There are several interesting points of information

· The labour costs in Australia, and other developed countries while they may be significant, they are generally smaller than the CODB

· Presuming that the principles of this analysis can be translated to other operating or processing business, the CODB would probably be higher as there is usually real estate and buildings with the attendant costs to be considered, which is not a factor in the taxi business

· Perhaps, it is the CODB which should be considered as a target for cost reduction exercises.

· It is difficult to see that the CODB in Asia could be an impediment or a significant hindrance to an investment in the region.

The actual ratio of CODB to total cost is dependent on the industry, and it can be presumed that the labour intensive industries are going to have a lower CODB ratio than most other industries, and in very few industries would the labour costs be a higher than those of the CODB

Glen Robinson
AFG Venture Group
Mob: +61 412 229 664
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Glen Robinson has spent the last 25+ years focussing on the establishment and development of cross border alliances, joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, particularly in the manufacturing, processing and distribution areas, and particularly targeted to Asia. These corporate advisory activities are based on many years' experience in management consultancy, and he has worked with a wide range of industries from agriculture, government through to manufacturing, distribution and service industries. He initially gained his Asian experience as chief executive officer for the Asian subsidiaries and joint ventures of a major international manufacturing and marketing organisation.

Glen sits on the board of many Asian related business organisations and has for many years advised a number of Foreign Investment Boards in the Asian region.
Tags: asia, operating costs, glen robinson