Jakarta: The Abraaj Group, a private-equity company focusing on emerging markets, plans to invest as much as $400 million in Southeast Asian and Indian companies this year.

The Dubai-based firm, which has $9 billion of assets globally, will target investments in the region’s growing middle-income population, Omar Lodhi, regional head for East Asia, said in an interview in Jakarta on Monday. That can be in sectors such as retail, health care and education as well as manufacturing and logistics, he said.

“Asia is at the forefront of emerging markets in terms of typifying the opportunity,” Lodhi said on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum conference. “It has favourable macro conditions, a young population, growing consumerism and accounts for two-thirds of the world’s population.”

Emerging Asian economies are set to expand 6.3 per cent this year and the next, according to the Asian Development Bank, more than double the 2.2 per cent rate forecast for major industrial countries like the US and Japan. The 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations seek a free trade economic zone by the end of 2015, a “significant step” that will take two to three years to implement, Lodhi said.

Abraaj invested in KPN Academy, a Thai education provider, in May last year, and other holdings in the region include Indonesian steel parts manufacturer Pamindo Tiga T.

The private-equity company hired Pandu Sjahrir, previously finance director at coal producer PT Toba Bara Sejahtra, as managing director to be based in Jakarta starting April 1.