The world’s second largest economy China, is now the largest market in Asia, and outside the Euro Zone only second to the USA for Ireland’s exports. According to the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) exports to mainland China (excluding the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) for the first two months of 2008 totalled €324.6 million, a year-on-year increase of 112%. Exports to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region over the same period reached €110 million.
In the face of the current global economic downturn, a difficult exchange rate and other cost base factors, including the flight of manufacturing processes to low overhead, low material cost countries in Asia and Eastern Europe, as our manufacturers struggle to maintain productivity, the rise in our exports to China is a major achievement and presents convincing evidence that Ireland is at last starting to hit the mark in China business. Given that over the past decade the development of our economic and trade relations with China has been a top priority the Irish Government will maintain that its Asia Strategy, with its particular emphasis on China, is the key reason for this positive development. What the CSO figures do not reveal, however, is how indigenous Irish businesses are performing compared to multinationals businesses based in Ireland.
China’s rise to become Ireland’s eight largest export destination is directly linked to its own export prowess and the craving for technology, infrastructure equipment and knowhow by Chinese enterprises that cannot be satisfied by domestic suppliers. From this perspective it is not surprising that the majority of our exports to China should consist of the information communications technology, machinery and equipment China requires to fuel its heady growth. Buoyed by breakneck 7% to 8% GDP growth in China over the past 10 years, a trend that shows little sign of abating, so long as businesses based in Ireland stay ahead of the technology curve and maintain their competitiveness exports to China will only continue to expand, thus strengthening China’s position as a major export market for Irish produce.
Looking ahead, where are the China market opportunities for Irish exporters?
Ireland commands a very strong position in the world trade rankings for internationally traded services. Recently published statistics by the World Trade Organisation 2006 show Ireland as the 12th largest services exporter, commanding a 2.6% share of world trade, while services exports now account for 35% of our total export trade. China has only opened up the service market to any great extent over the past four years and there are clearly significant additional market opportunities now for Irish service exports in engineering consultancy, aviation services, information communication technology, education and tourism services. The latter two service sectors are particularly significant given the rise in the spending power of the Chinese consumer.
According to the China National Bureau of Statistics, in 2007, China’s retail spending rose 16.8 percent to 8.92 trillion Yuan (US$1.24 trillion), thus adding credence to a widely held view that Chinese demand will this year for the first time become the main driver of world economic growth, with the increase in its domestic spending in current dollar terms contributing more to global growth than US domestic demand. As such, Irish suppliers should be relishing lucrative domestic sales opportunities presented by an increasingly affluent population.
Located two hours south of Shanghai is the prosperous city of Hangzhou, Marco Polo’s ‘paradise on earth’, which Forbes ™ Magazine has repeatedly rated as China’s premier business centre. With a registered population of 6.7 million inhabitants and an urban per capita income of RMB21,689, Hangzhou provides the ideal glimpse into the phenomenal growth in the purchasing power of China’s increasingly affluent middle class. Not only do Bentley, Maserati, Ferrari, and Prada showrooms do a thriving business here, even more remarkable is the thirst to travel abroad whether as tourists, with Paris and London high on the list of preferred destinations, or graduate students from the third ranked university in China, Hangzhou’s Zhejiang University, seeking further education in the best schools in Europe and the USA.
As individual prosperity rises so too are people becoming increasingly concerned about their living conditions. Recognising such anxieties, and looking ahead to population growth of close to 20 per cent over the next five years, in addition to the huge infrastructure building projects already underway, the Hangzhou Municipal People’s Government is actively encouraging projects focused on providing fuel efficiency, cleaner water, better sanitation, and power generation, all of which whether in material or service form present significant opportunities for Irish suppliers.
As patterns of consumption change, to reflect those found in wealthier countries, such as higher levels of meat consumption, the opportunities for Irish suppliers in the development of both the food ingredients market, such as diary fats and proteins, standard cereal and grain products and flours, vegetable oils, or standardised high-quality meat products, and markets for the products of large scale cropping and livestock activities, become all the more apparent. In 2005, Kerry Group quick to seize the market opportunity established its state-of-the-art China manufacturing, technical and administrative facilities in Hangzhou.
However, remove the rose-tinted glasses and it quickly becomes apparent that in China the size of the opportunity is only matched by the difficulty in weighing up the risk, as the great challenges for any Irish supplier in entering what is still a relatively immature market quickly become apparent. China’s rapid growth since its 1978 opening to the world has not necessarily meant greater transparency.
Making sound business decisions can be very difficult when there is little timely information available, and when the information available is either unreliable, or misleading. What’s more, a simple misunderstanding of local business practices, which can be very different from what is taken for granted in Ireland, can harm efforts to develop solid business relationships and leverage them into strategic opportunities. As Kerry, CRH and Glen Dimplex have found, there is an inherent need for proximity to the customer base for supplying many services. However, this forces small and medium exporter into the high cost of establishing a commercial presence in the China.
Rather than going it alone, working with either the Irish Exporters Association, Enterprise Ireland, or some of the more experienced homegrown market-entry consultancy practices with experts based on the ground in China, and their ability to access key business and government decision-makers, will greatly assist Irish businesses in getting the most out of the unprecedented opportunities available in China.”
China Office : 1-3 Ying Hui Xing Zhou, Jiang Nan Shui Xiang Lian Sheng Road, Yu Hang District, Hangzhou. China 310023| O: +86 571 8709 1253
Ireland Office: 93 Upper Georges Street, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, Ireland| O: +353-1271-1830