Asia is resolutely open for business with Irish companies. That was the clear message that emerged during Taoiseach Micheal Martin’s visit to Japan and Singapore this week.
While pandemic-related restrictions on tourists remain in some countries, business travellers are welcome to visit these rapidly growing export markets and join the ranks of leading Irish companies successfully winning in the region, such as Kingspan, Kerry Group and ICON.
Japan, a G7 country and the world’s third-largest economy, is home to
125 million people, so the market presents significant ongoing opportunities for Irish exporters.
Enterprise Ireland last week published its Annual Business Review for 2021, which confirmed that exports from Enterprise Ireland-backed companies to Japan increased to record levels last year, reaching an all-time high of €277m and representing an increase of 11.1pc. There are approximately 200 Enterprise Ireland-supported client companies regularly exporting to Japan, with more than 50 local presences established to support their growth in the market and employing up to 2,000 people in Japan.
Digital transformation is a core focus for Japan, meaning the government and private sector there are keen to discover new innovative solutions in this area. Like so many other markets, sustainability is also high on the agenda there, with digital and data-driven green solutions in high demand. This adds to the opportunities for well-established firms in the areas of life sciences, fintech, software and advanced manufacturing.
The Taoiseach led the Irish delegation on this important visit to the region, and they were warmly welcomed by Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, where both countries signed a joint declaration, “Taking Forward Partnership with Shared Ambition”, which focuses on economic collaboration and co-operation.
While in Japan, the Taoiseach hosted roundtables with Enterprise Ireland client companies to recognise some of their significant market milestones. These included a new office opening in Japan for energy tech firm GridBeyond, a new partnership for infrastructure automation specialists Ubiqube with Japanese firm Alaxala, and ICON’s major acquisition in Japan and plans to scale in the market.
From Japan, the Taoiseach and the Irish delegation travelled to Singapore, where they met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong. Exports from Irish firms to Southeast Asia rose by 8pc to €392m in 2021, with Singapore increasing by 10pc, accounting for €116m of that.
While Singapore is a relatively small island nation of 5.4 million people, English is widely spoken there, making it an ideal launching pad for Irish companies to enter the massive trading bloc of Southeast Asia.
This region, home to 682 million people, includes huge markets such as Indonesia (273 million people),
Vietnam (97 million) and Thailand (70 million).
Fintech, regtech, pharma and health tech are key sectors in Singapore, along with high-tech construction, education and food, while agritech is also a huge opportunity as you go further into Southeast Asia.
During the visit there this week, nine Irish companies participated in contract signings in Singapore. These included PM Group, which is supporting a first-of-its-kind vaccine plant in Singapore, along with ICDL, Intuition Publishing, Know Your Customer, NUIG, CurrencyFair (Zai), Aero Inspection, Ubiqube and Mackin EHS.
In order to operate in Japan and Southeast Asia, Irish exporters need to be prepared for the fact that cultural and business norms there mean that they will have to operate somewhat differently than they may do in other export markets in Europe or North America.
They will need to be mindful and respectful of these local business norms and cultural nuances, and the Enterprise Ireland teams on the ground in these markets regularly provide local support and advice on this front.
It’s also vital to have sufficient financial resources in order to commit to the market, win business and be highly responsive to customers. To make any headway, Irish firms typically find they need to set up a direct market presence and hire locally.
For any companies interested in exporting to APAC markets, there’s one key question — are you world class in what you do?
Those who can confidently answer that they are should talk to Enterprise Ireland to assess potential opportunities in the region.
Kevin Ryan is director, ASEAN at Enterprise Ireland, and Neil Cooney is director, Japan at Enterprise Ireland.