Irish learn how not to get in over their heads in China

Irish firms need to calm the irrational exuberance that can sometimes overtake companies when they come to Asia

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton: led the trade mission to China and South Korea which saw more than €40 million in trade and investment announcements by Irish companies.  Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton: led the trade mission to China and South Korea which saw more than €40 million in trade and investment announcements by Irish companies. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Tue, Jul 1, 2014, 01:20

One of the characteristics of last week’s mission to China and Korea was that Ireland’s trade tsars, at all levels from ministers to ambassadors to representatives from Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland and other agencies, are keen to manage expectations better.

They professed a need to calm the irrational exuberance that can sometimes overtake companies when they come to Asia and see the large potential market, the desire for overseas expertise and the possibilities it all offers.

The trade mission which has just ended, led by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, saw more than €40 million in trade and investment announcements by Irish companies.

“The fit is good now. A lot of companies in this part of the world want to globalise, they are looking at Europe and much as we were a very attractive proposition for US companies looking at Europe, we have the same strengths and also the track record now,” said Mr Bruton.

Major programmes such as China’s economic reform plans and India’s newly elected pro-business prime minister Narendra Modi’s intention to boost economic growth and create more jobs offer great opportunities for Irish companies in the region.

They also heighten the need to boost Ireland’s profile as a place in which to invest. This was Mr Bruton’s sixth trade and investment mission to Asia since taking office, and the intensity of visits by other ministers to this part of the world has also seen a major step up, he said.

Building relationships

“Asia is about building relationships. When we first started this task three years ago we were at the shallow end of the pool and we were doing a lot of splashing and maybe not a lot of products, but now we are showing that we can swim in that environment,” he said.

“We’re possibly a bit further behind in Korea than in China, but it’s the same process. Relationships built on trust . . . and create a credible platform,” said Bruton.

The Government’s strategy for Asia has seen a doubling of the number of trade missions, 35 extra IDA staff in the field and 20 extra Enterprise Ireland staffers in “new markets”. The strategy is not so much an aggregate one as a country-by-country approach. “We need to look at each market and see how we drive that opportunity. The ambassador in each market leads Team Ireland and they have a plan, and we need to become more granular around those plans,” he said.

The trade mission focused on life sciences and niche technologies. On the first trade mission led by Mr Bruton, there was a large group of companies drawn by China’s obvious appeal. “But not all of them had the stamina to hack it. What we are seeing is a gradual build-up of companies who understand the process of penetrating the Asian market and are willing to commit to the long term and be patient, to put feet on the ground and to employ people from the country as part of their team and show that it is a collaborative long-term thing,” said Mr Bruton.

Coaching

EI is careful about coaching companies coming out to make sure there is no “irrational exuberance”.

“Ministerial-led trade missions provide a strong platform to promote Ireland and Irish companies as strategic partners across multiple sectors in growing markets like China, and demonstrate how Enterprise Ireland can act as a conduit for international buyers to Ireland’s world class goods and services,” said Kevin Sherry, head of international sales and partnering with Enterprise Ireland.

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