Asia growth opportunities still untapped by SMEs

Most Australian businesses are yet to seize the opportunities in some of the world’s fastest growing markets, and often lack the capabilities needed to succeed in these competitive economies. Thought leadership launched today by Asialink Business, sponsored by Commonwealth Bank (CBA), provides a critical snapshot of the readiness of Australian businesses to achieve growth with Asia, and highlights practical pathways to bridge skills gaps and build Asia capabilities.

With only 13 per cent of small and medium enterprises currently exporting internationally*, the first phase in this multi-faceted project features an online tool and resource library. The tool enables businesses to self-assess their preparedness to enter Asian markets and directs respondents to free resources that will help improve their capabilities.

This free and publicly available tool is accompanied by a discussion paper, Growing with Asia, underlining the specific skills, knowledge and networks that Australian small and medium business** need to win in the region.

Asialink Business CEO Mukund Narayanamurti said, “Australia’s small and medium businesses are diverse, resourceful and innovative, but they often still overlook opportunities offshore, especially in emerging Asia, where the scale of growth significantly exceeds domestic prospects.

“If our economy is to prosper, we can’t only be focused on keeping the lights on at home. By 2030, emerging Asian economies, like Indonesia, India and Vietnam, will have middle-class markets that are more than AUD 20 trillion bigger than they are today – this forecast growth is more than 11 times the size of Australia’s current GDP,” Narayanamurti added.

“Previous research has focused public attention on how our largest companies engage with Asia, but it is now time to take the microscope to small and medium businesses. We need to spark and prioritise a national conversation on how to overcome the unique challenges they face.”

CBA Head of Asian Business Banking, Jonathan Yeung said, “Australia’s small and medium businesses are truly the engine room of the Australian economy. Representing 99.8 per cent of the total number of Australian businesses, small and medium businesses employ more than seven million Australians and contribute more than 56 per cent of Australia’s GDP. However, while many of these businesses are growing or looking to expand, just 13 per cent are exporting to markets outside of Australia.

“We know most businesses are aware of the opportunities that Asia presents but many are unsure as to how to enter and thrive in these highly competitive environments. Through our partnership with Asialink Business, we are excited to be launching Growing with Asia and providing Australia’s small and medium businesses with the knowledge and support they need to develop the capabilities required to capitalise on these opportunities.”

The discussion paper highlights six specific capabilities that small and medium businesses need to develop to succeed in the region. These range from deep insights into individual Asian markets, practical experience “on the ground” in the region, the ability to adapt behaviour to different cultural contexts, and the ability to form long-term trusted relationships. They also include leadership commitment to an Asia-focused strategy and an ability to customise product or service offerings, which are especially important for medium-sized companies.

* Facebook, OECD, The World Bank, Future of Business Survey, (April 2018)
** A small to medium business is determined by headcount, ranging from 0-199 employees

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