ByBeth Barovian Increased consumer and business spending are driving near double-digit growth in Southeast Asia, making it an increasingly attractive market for U.S. business, states the US-ASEAN Business Council Inc., a U.S.-based group representing private-sector interests in ASEAN. ASEAN, the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations, is composed of 10 countries and 500 million people. The region was plunged into a recession following the Asian economic crisis in the late '90s but for the last year has been on a recovery path. In the first quarter of this year, Malaysia and Singapore's economies grew by 11.7% and 9.1% respectively. "Southeast Asian consumers are helping feed this remarkable recovery in their countries, and as they prosper, they demand American products and services," says Ernest Z. Bower, president of the US-ASEAN Business Council "American companies can feed that need and add fuel to the future growth of Southeast Asia." ASEAN is the third largest U.S. export site behind Japan and the EU, and exports increased by 14.7% in the first quarter of 2000 compared with the first quarter of 1999. In the same period, imports to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia, have leapt by 30.3%, 24.6%, 10.3%, 7.7%, and 7% respectively. Bower believes that these rising numbers warrant an optimistic outlook for American businesses in regard to their investments in Asia. "As the economic tide turns in Southeast Asia, American companies face a tremendous potential for growth," Bower says.