By Robyn Molloy

Western Australian businesses are set to capitalise from the renewed focus on trade and investment with Asia, following the release of the State Government’s WA Asian Engagement Strategy.

Speaking to more than 150 business representatives at CCIWA’s breakfast event last week, Minister for Asian Engagement Peter Tinley said the challenge for businesses was collaborating with traditional competitors to de-risk moves into Asian markets.

“The State Government stands ready to be providing the dating service and try to get likeminded people in the room to actually collaborate, let’s go to Asia together,” he told the Stepping up in Asia: the big opportunities for WA businesses event at Fraser’s Kings Park.

The strategy outlines the six priority sectors for development in the Asia region including energy, tourism, international education, mining and equipment technology and services, technology and advanced manufacturing and primary industries.

Tinley said four themes in the Government’s strategy would drive deeper engagement with Asia, including foreign investment, supporting Asian literacy and capability, enhancing people to people connections and supporting business networks and communities.

He said Perth was a trading commodity in itself and needed to carve an identity that is internationally branded Perth then “own it and promote it”. 

Tinley highlighted that merchandise exports to Asia rose from $24 billion in 2004 to $129b last year and by 2030 Asian would contain 60 per cent of the world’s middle class with someone added to the middle class every five minutes.

CCIWA CEO Chris Rodwell welcomed the Asian Engagement Strategy, which he said would go a long way towards bolstering WA’s trade and investment in the region.

“It is clear that WA’s opportunities lay in abundance – not just in China but across the greater Asia region,” he said.

“Whether it is increasing the level of student exchange between our two countries, securing a direct flight from Perth to Shanghai, bolstering our promotion efforts or increasing our food and agribusiness exports – these must be priorities for WA if we want to diversify.”

Rodwell said with a proliferation of bilateral and multilateral Free Trade Agreements by the Australian Government in the last decade there had never been a better time for businesses to understand the benefits of exploring new markets. 

Austrade CEO Stephanie Faye said Asia’s booming middle class meant there were more customers for most of the State’s products and services.

She said Austrade, which has 80 offices in 49 markets, not only existed to help Australian exporters go to global markets but also sought to bring companies, such as Malaysian Government-owned oil and gas giant Petronas, to Perth.

“We introduce them to those companies who are the leading equipment providers, technology and services companies in this sector, so they can tap into the supply chain of Petronas,” Faye said.

“So, it’s a bit of a David and Goliath approach. We bring Goliath to Perth.”

Speaking during our panel discussion, Perth Airport CEO Kevin Brown warned against a “one size fits all” approach because Asia, like Europe, was made up of many different markets.

Brown also flagged that the time and cost to get a visa to visit Australia was a disincentive for attracting travellers and called on Minister Tinley to push the issue with the Federal Government.

“We are not truly open for business when … we don’t actually make it easy for people to come and visit this country,” Brown said.

“India is a key market. When I go to India they tell me that it’s $150 per person to get a visa and it take six weeks to process, and there are 40 odd countries in the world where they can turn up at the border and get a visa at no cost.”

Other panellists including Gelflex Managing Director David Masel and Dickinson Estate Wineries owner Trevor Dickinson spoke of the trials and benefits of establishing new markets, sharing their insights on the mistakes they’d made but ultimately the benefits to persevering.

Applications for the Access Asia Business grants program in the six priority sectors identified in the strategy opened this week. Find out if your business is eligible here. 

CCIWA’s International Trade and Investment Centre (ITIC) understand international market opportunities and can help your business navigate the journey to exporting and importing. Find out more here.