Australia is missing out on Asia's biggest opportunity

During a four year-stint in Indonesia with PwC, I worked on the sell-side of an M&A deal and it struck me the Australian buy-side management team didn't leave the airport hotel. In the end they didn't go through with the deal I think because they couldn't come to grips with the risk.

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Today given the chance to do the deal at the kind of price available then, I am pretty sure the company would jump but it is too late. Someone else did the deal. That fly in fly out mentality just doesn't work. You wouldn't do it in a Western country so why would you do that in a place you don't understand? 

"Australian business needs to invest in Asia if we are going to do business in Asia. Our level of investment though is woeful."
Andrew Parker, Leader of PwC Australia's Indonesia Practice

PwC released a major report this week, "Passing us by", which looks at how businesses can capture some of the nuances of doing business in the 10 ASEAN countries plus China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, Japan and South Korea, or "Asia" as we have defined it. 

Most companies intellectually understand that Asia is big and growing fast. But they think that a bi-lateral trading relationship where we ship raw materials to Asia and they send them back as finished products is how Australia rolls in the "Asian Century". I don't think that will be enough. 

We are missing out on the biggest opportunity in Asia. The scale of intra-Asian trade will exceed that of the EU by 2016. Asia is becoming home to more and more world class companies with global brands that have the scale and low cost bases that fund R&D budgets and innovation that Australian companies should be looking out for. 

These companies are the competition - and make no mistake, they are formidable competitors. The traditional protections of geography and borders are being torn down by technology and the signing of more Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) will only quicken the pace of change in global supply chains. 

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Australian business needs to invest in Asia if we are going to do business in Asia. Our level of investment though is woeful. Our stock of foreign direct investment in ASEAN countries, a region of 620 million people, at the end of 2013 was $A28.2 billion. In NZ it was $A45.9 billion. 

This report not only shows us the data that tells us we need to get there now - it surveys over 1,000 companies on their experience, or lack thereof, with Asia.

Of course there are risks. Asia may not be for everyone. But those risks can be managed and it is imperative we do because the biggest risk is doing nothing at all.

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The Abbott Government’s leadership in securing FTAs with Korea, Japan and now China is a fantastic step forward, and creates enormous growth opportunities for Australian businesses. But business must not lose sight of the fact that these opportunities are two way. 

We will face even greater competition from world-class and innovative Asian companies in our home markets. The door has been opened by Government, it’s now up to business to walk through it and go for the opportunities.

This report particularly shows Australian companies in industries such as health care, financial services, education and infrastructure sectors how to tap in to the phenomenal rise of the middle class in many of the Asian nations. 

Let's not just be a farm or quarry for Asia - learn from this report and help realise your organisation's full potential. 

And for those who are ahead of the curve and already have an Asian strategy, have you experienced any of the cultural nuances, barriers and opportunities we've documented?

Andrew Parker is a Sydney-based Deals Partner and also the leader of PwC Australia's Indonesia Practice. 

Source for all charts: Passing us by, report by PwC. Feature photo: Alex Collin, ANZ staff photographer.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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