Asia Trade Forum - Kilkenny

On May 17th, the Asia Trade Forum (ATF) held the second event of its 2013 series in the pleasant surroundings of Kilkenny Castle. Events aimed at providing greater levels of export-related education and knowledge-sharing are very often held in Dublin; and so this was a great opportunity for the context to shift whilst firmly maintaining the focus on Asia.

The morning was framed around the subject “Getting Started in Asia” which provided a refreshingly large scope in which different businesses and organisations could share their lessons. What was striking was the consistency of certain themes that carried throughout the morning, which helped to create a clear sense of the obvious opportunities and pitfalls for businesses.

There were many interesting observations - here are a few which I found particularly striking:

Environmental considerations

Quality and price are no longer the only key considerations when large foreign buyers look for prospective sellers. Minister Phil Hogan (pictured right)- Department of Environment, Community and Local Government- spoke of the increasing pressure coming to bear regarding the sustainability requirements placed upon countries and companies on how they manufacture product. The minister emphasised that he expects this criteria to expand in the coming years and that Irish exporting companies need to be very aware of the considerations related to environmental impact and sustainability.

Speculate to accumulate

Companies that hope to derive significant profits from activities in any Asian market should expect to first experience significant costs- both in human and financial resources. Michael Connolly from premium animal feed producers Connolly’s Red Mills shared some fascinating insights into his experiences of winning sizeable Asian buyers and emphasised that it is important for a company to know how long they expect to lose money before starting to make money. A good example of this initial investment is the local salesperson versus local distribution company question. Whilst up-front cost of the latter is far lower than the former, the experience of this company found that a local salesperson was a worthwhile investment for long-term growth. Mr Connolly also posed what may seem like an obvious question, but is actually a common pitfall for many exporting companies- is your core product/service actually desirable in the market you are targeting?

A natural resource becoming a global commodity

Ireland has an increasingly valuable global commodity at its finger-tips, and in great supply: water. Joe Crockett, Kilkenny County Manager, highlighted that more extreme weather conditions have recently resulted in a number of high profile droughts such as those in Australia, France and the South East of England. Mr Crockett suggested that Government and business should be looking at ways to exploit this plentiful natural resource.

“Ireland as Singapore”

Don’t bank on a boom in Chinese FDI coming our way. Professor Deirdre Hunt from University College Cork’s School of Asian Studies shared a number of statistics that pour cold water on the idea that Europe and Ireland is a key investing ground for Chinese firms, pointing out that between1982 and 2009 Europe only accounted for 10% of Chinese acquisitions. Professor Hunt made the argument for Ireland to model itself on Singapore, which very successfully acts as a safe haven for western companies looking to do business in Asia. Ireland should position itself similarly, investing in officials with strong knowledge and language skills for Chinese companies- helping them to develop their presence, integrate, and successfully complete mergers and acquisitions from their regional HQ in Ireland.

Dancing to the tune of success

Riverdance has been touring the world since the mid nineties and Executive Producer Julian Erskine closed proceedings by sharing the story of the shows phenomenal success in China. Echoing earlier comments from Michael Connolly regarding the need for patience to succeed, Julian shared the many hurdles encountered during the first five tours between 2008 and 2010 and the subsequent explosion of popularity following an appearance on CCTV (the RTE of China). Furthering the picture of rapid modernisation in China, Riverdance returned for tour six in 2012 to discover that of the twenty four venues they played, twenty were brand new, state-of-the-art amphitheatres.

The next Asia Trade Forum event will focus on India, takes place on June 26th and is free to attend- further details are available online at The ATF is sponsored by Ulster Bank, Etihad Airways, William Fry, Grant Thornton, Enterprise Ireland, FCM Travel Solutions and Euler Hermes.



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