Australia: Doubling SME Exporters

Article excerpt

Australia is embarking on an ambitious plan to double the number of Australian exporters by 2006 and to increase community support for international trade by raising awareness of the benefits of trade and investment.

Australia plans to double the number of Australian exporters by 2006 - a goal it believes is important for the country to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

The Australian Trade Commission (Austrade), which helps Australian firms reduce the time, cost and risk involved in doing business overseas, is a leader in this effort. The national TPO has set new corporate strategic directions that will entail new tools, services and systems, and a realignment of existing programmes.

Caveat on good news

While Australia's economy is in good shape, it agrees with the theme of the Beijing Conference, that countries are operating in a turbulent new business environment.

Australia shares ITC's view that successful TPOs will be those that view trade promotion in terms of export capacity development and not simply market development.

Australian exporters are making rapid progress, with some surprising individual export success stories. For example, Australia sells pasta to Italy, sand and camels to the Middle East, and sake to Japan.

Few "heavy lifters"

While Australia's recent export performance has been outstanding, the nation's success has in fact been achieved by a small group of companies.

Austrade research shows that only 25,000 Australian businesses export - just 4% of the firms in the country, a proportion slightly ahead of the United States, but below Canada, Spain and Norway.

Clearly, in Australia's case, a rather modest number of high-achieving exporters are doing a lot of "heavy lifting" for the rest of the national economy.

Potential exists

The positive conclusions are that the potential of Australia's export sector is enormous, and that Australia stands to reap considerable gain if it can turn more companies into exporters, turn occasional exporters into regular exporters and support the growth of "born globals" - those companies that need to trade internationally to survive.

Stagnation or only modest growth in the number of exporters has the potential of leading to lost opportunities to internationalize the Australian economy further and consequently increase national wealth and jobs. By doubling the number of exporters by 2006, the Australian Government would generate an estimated US$ 8 billion a year in extra trade revenue for Australia.

Coordinated approach

Although it has asked Austrade to be a leader in this effort, the Australian Government acknowledges that there must be a "whole-of-government" approach -- a crucial point given that Australia is a federation of states and territories.

The Government formalized its target of doubling exporter numbers in April 2002, when the Australian Commonwealth reached a historic agreement with state and territory governments. The agreement singles out five specific areas for enhanced cooperation to:

> strengthen local communities' understanding of the benefits of trade;

> increase the growth rate for new SME exporters;

> focus on high-potential export growth sectors, such as knowledge-based industries;

> promote equitable access to export facilitation services in regional Australia; and

> improve coordination with providers of export services from the private sector.

The Government is also enlisting the assistance of industry associations and the private sector to provide more support to companies which have the potential to export but have yet to do so.

Training Austrade staff

Against the backdrop of the new challenge to double the number of exporters, Austrade is continuing to develop its people and levels of service to assist its existing clients. …