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Businesses fear missing out on opportunities in Asia

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While political efforts to rebuild post COVID-19 economic ties with Asia are at full tilt, Australian businesses may be missing the boat.

Almost nine in 10 are concerned about a failure to capitalise on opportunities, according to a survey of 167 enterprises by specialist think-tank Asialink Business.

More than three-quarters of those who participated in the research are already doing business in or with Asia, while all but a handful (96.4 per cent) believe increasing knowledge and understanding of Asian markets is needed to improve Australian success in the region.

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan is the most recent senior figure to fly the Australian flag in the near north, having returned from a five-day trip to Beijing where he met with the vice minister for foreign affairs.

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His visit followed that of Victorian counterpart Daniel Andrews, who spent a week in China undertaking similar discussions at the beginning of April, while Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk expects to be there in November.

Federal Trade Minister Don Farrell, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Resources Minister Madeleine King visited India in March, while Foreign Minister Penny Wong travelled to China in December and held trade talks in Malaysia in February.

Asialink Business CEO Leigh Howard says missions at every level of government and business to key markets to bolster ties and promote sectors like education, agribusiness and energy underline “significant pent-up interest”.

“But without sufficient investment in understanding the markets, the danger is that businesses will achieve substandard outcomes - or no outcomes at all,” he said.

“Being under-prepared and learning how to do business after you’ve arrived quickly makes a market visit an expensive endeavour.”

Mr Howard said Australian businesses returning to Asia post COVID will find themselves walking into change especially in relation to digital adoption and eCommerce, and the increased importance of securing reliable supply chains.

“By far, the biggest eye-opener for Australian business will be just how much Asian markets continue to steam ahead in terms of their economic progress and development.

“There is a growing affluent class across Asia and our international competitors increasingly want a slice of the action.”

Australian companies would do well to formulate strategies in advance, he said.

“It’s not enough to simply turn up anymore.

“Asia has moved on.”

Despite obvious challenges, about 40 per cent of the Asialink-surveyed businesses said they expected their Asian-based revenue to improve significantly this year, while half anticipated a little growth and 10 per cent none.

Of the 167, 81 identified Indonesia as their market of most interest, 71 named Singapore, 70 India, 67 Vietnam, 59 Malaysia and 57 China, which remains Australia’s largest trading partner.

Canberra and Beijing achieved a major breakthrough in the long-running dispute between the two countries on April 11, leading to hopes of an end to crippling taxes on Australian barley and rows over meat, wine and crayfish.

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