Southeast Asia presents unique opportunities
Invest Northern Ireland is increasing its international network, with regional managers in 10 additional territories around the world helping companies to grow exports.
My role is to support Northern Ireland companies with exporting to southeast Asia.
We are particularly, but not exclusively, focused on the region's larger economies of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand.
Southeast Asia is a large and diverse market that collectively has a population of 630 million people. It is the third largest non-EU market globally and holds great potential for NI companies and exporters.
In fact, in the latest 12-month rolling period until June 2017, Northern Ireland companies exported at least £280m to Southeast Asia.
Strong economic growth over the past 20 years has driven prosperity and helped to spread wealth throughout the region.
It is expected that there will be more than 400 million people defined as middle income by 2020.
This has resulted in increased spending on food and drinks, healthcare and life sciences, technology and education, and a greater need for financial services.
To support this increase in population and wealth, infrastructure spending will continue to increase, presenting great opportunities for Northern Ireland's materials handling, construction, aerospace, transport, waste and water management and civil engineering companies.
For the most part, the economies of southeast Asia are 'open' economies that are actively looking for outside expertise and partners.
That being said, each of the 10 countries that make up the region are at different stages of economic development, and consequently there will be differing and unique opportunities in each.
It is worth noting that Singapore, as the gateway to the region, has many multi-national companies, and southeast Asian businesses and distributors headquartered there can provide an easy access point to the region as a whole.
Indonesia and Philippines are less advanced than their neighbours (Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand) but, due to their large, fast-growing economies with upwardly mobile populations, they should be viewed as prime export destinations for most categories.
When we look at southeast Asia in general, it is a global hub for manufacturing and distribution and provides access points for Northern Ireland companies to reach international customers as part of the global supply chain to China and United States.
As well as considering the different opportunities in each country, exporters need to be aware of how language, law, corporate governance standards, country and currency risks differ across the region. That being said, the key thing is that there is likely to be multiple markets and opportunities for companies interested in exporting to the region.
My background as a chartered accountant, and working in capital markets in southeast Asia for more than 20 years, has provided me with deep insight into how southeast Asian companies and the region's economies work, and how to enter markets and expand geographically. I am experienced in investing in emerging growth companies and in bringing foreign companies to the region to access capital and the southeast Asia market. I am delighted to bring this experience to bear, and I look forward to working successfully with exporters.
We are able to provide a wide variety of services to assist companies at all stages of their export journey: international trade advisory services; initial market entry and research services; high value campaigns (direct face-to-face with distributors and buyers of goods and services); and guidance on local regulation.
Opportunities here are abundant for ambitious and focused Northern Ireland companies.
If you would like to explore these further with Invest NI's help, please contact your client manager or our business support team on 0800 181 4422.
- Nick Caldwell is regional director for southeast Asia at Invest Northern Ireland.