By Nigel McBride, CEO Business SA
SOUTH East Asia sits on our doorstep. Flights are ridiculously cheap and the opportunities abound for travelling abroad.
Yet not enough South Australian businesses export regionally, whether it be to China, Singapore, Malaysia or Vietnam.
We all know about wine, seafood and agriculture, but there are opportunities to export our products and services and grow our local businesses, from medical devices to fashion.
Trade to South East Asia overshadows Europe and the US, but growth is needed everywhere. Did you know SA companies also export to Azerbaijan, Barbados, Gabon and Djibouti? The numbers are small, but opportunities abound.
Last financial year China was the state’s largest export destination, followed by Japan, India, Thailand and South Korea.
The US sits towards the end of our top dozen and the UK knocks at the door of the top 20. We know our best markets, we just need to grow them.
Exporting is achievable but isn’t always easy. It can be challenging for small companies, which make up most of the state’s business community.
A Business SA members survey found barriers to exporting include the absence of suitable products, an inability to compete on price, and additional costs associated with exporting.
A government and trade delegation has been in Singapore and Malaysia helping to create and build existing relationships, providing a gateway for our businesses to connect with potential partners as part of the state’s South East Asia Engagement Strategy.
Government figures show merchandise exports to Singapore increased by 27 per cent between 2015 and 2016, and grew 9.9 per cent to Malaysia.
But SA represents only 4 per cent of the nation’s exports in dollar value and while the number of companies exporting is slowly growing, it could certainly be boosted.
Forging partnerships through trade offices is one step towards international engagement, along with helping businesses prepare for market, which can be facilitated through Business SA’s Export Ready program.
The program bridges the services gap between setting up a business and transitioning into a position where it is ready and able to export.
Recognising diversity and talking to people who understand different cultures and how they operate in a business environment can also help. That means how to hand over a business card, offer gifts, or whether to bow or shake hands with an overseas partner.
Having a greater representation of Asian-born staff members and advisers can be beneficial, because they offer a greater diversity of thought and a cultural understanding few people may have unless they have taken advantage of those cheap airfares and travelled widely.
A 2013 Diversity Council of Australia study found only 4 per cent of ASX 200 companies had Asian representation at a senior executive level.
In SA, where there are few ASX listed companies and lower migrant populations than in the east, diversity levels are even lower.
Creating partnerships is achievable, and increasing exports will grow the state’s economy and lead to increasing employment and greater business confidence.