Right time to get on board for AsiaPac opportunities
"Always listen," advised Dicky Yip, non-executive director of Chinese insurance giant PingAn and former chief executive of HSBC China, during his keynote speech at Enterprise Ireland's Routes to Growth Asia Pacific, a major conference which brought together more than 400 Irish and international business people to explore export opportunities in the region.
"It takes time to understand each area's cultural differences," said Yip.
The inaugural Routes to Growth Asia Pacific event offered a unique opportunity for networking and peer-learning to current and first-time exporters, with more than 100 potential buyers travelling to attend. Enterprise Ireland's entire AsiaPac team assisted companies with export plans and on-the-ground experience. Enterprise Ireland also launched a series of business guides to help companies better prepare for market entry.
Stretching from Australia to India and China, AsiaPac is home to half of the world's population and two of its three biggest economies. By 2025, it will account for more than half of the world's economic output. Similar trends are evident with growth rates, which range from 5pc to 9pc, compared to the 2pc-3pc global average.
More than 600 Irish companies are doing business in the region, worth €2bn annually. Irish exports more than doubled in the last five years since breaking the €1bn mark in 2012, delivering double-digit growth for Enterprise Ireland-supported companies in 2016.
As the second-fastest growing region for Enterprise Ireland-backed companies, a 50pc increase in exports is targeted by 2020. Opportunities for Irish businesses in sectors including aviation, fintech, international education, and construction and engineering are particularly promising.
"Ireland has emerged as one of the greatest global aviation hubs in recent times," said Dermot Mannion, former deputy chairman of Royal Brunei Airlines and former Aer Lingus CEO. "That is happening at a time when Asia Pacific is far and away the fastest-growing region for aviation. Over the next 20 years the number of aircraft going into Asia Pacific will be equal to North America and Europe combined. We are very well-positioned to take advantage of that."
One example of Irish success in the sector is CAE Parc Aviation, which first began doing business there almost three decades ago. Today 45pc of its worldwide business comes from Asian companies. CAE Parc has seven offices spread across five AsiaPac countries. "It's a massive market for us," chief executive Frank Collins said.
Speakers recommended reaching out to Enterprise Ireland for assistance and tapping into the Irish diaspora.
"You need to get out there on the ground, so use Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Foreign Affairs. There is always someone who can give you introductions," said Paul Costigan, chief sales and marketing officer at Decawave.
Barry Napier, CEO of Cubic Telecom, first discussed the possibility of entering the region with Enterprise Ireland in 2010 and benefited from Irish embassies in the region. "Regulation is very different in every market. A key thing we leveraged from Enterprise Ireland was about laws and regulations, and how to work within the market," said Napier.
Ireland's connectivity to the Apac region will see a big boost in June 2018 with the launch of a direct flight between Dublin and Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, the first ever direct flight from Ireland to the Asian mainland.
"Don't underestimate the impact of having 'Dublin' on departure boards in Hong Kong will have," said Mannion. "It will create a dynamic where companies in that part of the world will be interested, because it will be easier to do business here."
That the Routes to Growth event was organised in partnership with Cathay Pacific is fitting. There is no doubt that the AsiaPac region is flying high. For Irish companies, it is time to get on board.
Tom Cusack is regional director for Asia Pacific at Enterprise Ireland
Sunday Indo Business