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John Findley Blog

John Findley is a China specialist having lived, off and on, in China for around 30 years. He now lives in Newcastle. He is a highly experienced senior executive and now runs his own migration business (a genuine independent contractor) supporting high-end executives to work in Australia.

Engage with China the right way

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I have a somewhat hazy recollection of a visit to the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce by a minister of the Keating cabinet in the early ’90s (going back quite a few years).
The minister addressed the Austcham with the message “Australia should engage with Asia”.  One wag at the rear of the room rose to his feet and pointed out, with great politeness, that the minister was addressing Austcham in Hong Kong and all members had been engaged with Asia for decades.

The Gillard government is coming out with a White Paper on engagement with Asia.  To whom is the paper addressed Prime Minister?
What can government achieve to further engagement?  To date the achievements seem to have made importing to Australia easier.  There has been nothing done to make exporting to Asia easier.
Unless you are genuine “big end of town” and own a coal mine or iron ore deposit, government is not interested in your export initiatives.
The Australian government cannot make changes to foreign countries’ regulations, and frankly, as such a small country, Australia does not feature highly in policy setting.
Maybe we could examine what Austrade could do for small business.  They are on the ground, they know their territories pretty well, so why aren’t they better used?
I recall a time when visiting Hochimin City for the first time, sometime in the late ’90s.  I was keen to find some contacts, so went to Austrade and asked their advice.  I was given a spiel about consulting and a budget price of A$7500 for Austrade to provide me with a report.
That was not in my budget, so I departed the Austrade offices and found a non-descript internet café where I accessed the Hochimin City Yellow pages.  In about 15 minutes I had collected around 20 good quality contacts, and all for the cost of about A$1.00
Without the assistance of Austrade, I had achieved my initial goal, and after a couple of days of footwork meeting private businesses and developing linkages as intended, I had gotten into meetings in the relevant Ministry.  These were not meetings with the Minister but they were far enough up the tree to achieve my objectives.
So there you go, Austrade seemed more interested in turning a profit than in assisting an Aussie entrepreneur.
Back to the White Paper; the release seems to continue to slip back, but we can get a glimpse of what it might seek to achieve by following the progress in the Submissions Summary.
The persons composing the summary seem to have trawled through the submissions, collecting whatever can be found that sounds nicest for the current government.
We should remember, business grows through small businesses.  There seems to be a dearth of submissions to the White Paper from small business but that is the nature of small business.  We are all so busy getting on with the job that we have little time to prepare submissions.  Maybe we feel a little intimidated by the erudite authors from big business.  That is why we need representation.
All that aside, there seems to be nothing on offer for small business.
One thing that could be done for small business would be to reinvigorate the Export Market Development Grants scheme, make it accessible for small business and somehow keep the big guys’ snouts out of the trough.
But the problem with incentives is that the schemes are run by bureaucrats, and the red tape is onerous and just makes it unattainable for small business.
So we wait with bated breath to find how the Gillard government is going to make us all better entrepreneurs in Asia
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