Down Under a potential home away from home for ambitious NI firms
Australia and New Zealand might be the other side of the world, but when it comes to doing business there, for many sectors the similarities bring it a lot closer to home.
Despite the 10-week shipping time, the surprisingly similar business environment between Northern Ireland and Australia/New Zealand - and even our shared sense of humour - make it culturally quite easy for export-ready Northern Ireland companies to trade in this market.
Many are already doing so. Major mobile screening equipment manufacturers, life science companies and a wide range of software businesses are providing solutions ranging from financial trading right through to field-to-fork food processing.
My role is to build on these export successes to seek out new opportunities for Northern Ireland companies. I can facilitate introductory meetings, establish contact with potential partners and provide on-the-ground market insights.
Australia is the 12th largest economy in the world and has experienced 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth.
New Zealand, meanwhile, has transformed from an agrarian economy (dependent on concessionary British market access) into a free market economy that can compete globally.
With expanding populations in both Australia and New Zealand, the building and construction sectors are growing rapidly to meet demand for new homes, hospitals, schools, transport links and other infrastructural projects.
Across Australia, more than 700 cranes are now operating as the construction boom overtakes the mining boom, with major residential and infrastructure projects underway including motorways, rail links and even prisons.
As well as the evident opportunities for construction firms and large equipment providers, there are also openings in construction waste management, recycling and renewable energy.
I will be seeking out supply chain opportunities for Northern Ireland companies as more infrastructure projects are announced.
The shared history between the two nations and deep underlying cultural similarities - most commonly categorised through Australia's 'no-worries' approach - make it an exciting place for Northern Ireland exporters to explore.
Thanks to the Closer Economic Relations (CER) Free Trade Agreement between Australia and New Zealand, once a Northern Ireland company meets the standards to export into one country, those standards automatically apply for both.
Even though New Zealand has, on occasion, been seen as a more price-sensitive market for imported goods, a number of Northern Ireland companies have made the strategic decision to initially establish themselves in New Zealand before expanding into the larger Australian market.
There are many similarities between both New Zealand and Northern Ireland's agricultural sectors, especially around diary and meat processing.
Overall, the marketplace within both Australia and New Zealand is remarkably similar.
Even within Australia, despite the five-hour flying time, there are no discernible differences between trading with the east and west coasts.
Many local distributors can offer Northern Ireland companies a national network of offices and distribution points to service customers across the continent.
Australia and New Zealand are located in the Asia-Pacific Region, one of the fastest growing regions of the world economy.
Over the past decade, the Australian and New Zealand governments have signed bilateral free trade agreements with China, Japan, Korea and numerous south-east Asian countries.
Through these agreements, Northern Ireland companies have found they are able to use their Australian operations to strengthen their market presence in Asia (and repatriating profits home to Northern Ireland in the process) without having to adjust product standards or pay import tariffs.
With an affluent population, hospitals and health clinics across both Australia and New Zealand are keen to employ better technologies for patients in areas such as precision medicine, imaging and regenerative medicine.
And with the Commonwealth Games being held in The Gold Coast in Australia in April 2018, there is already a notable increase in interest among Aussie sports fans in different sports-tech and wearable technologies.
There are also strong opportunities for our financial services and cyber-security firms.
As a result of 20-plus years of a compulsory defined-contribution pension system, Australia now has the one of the largest retirement savings pools in the world, as well as some of the world's strongest banks.
These banks and fund managers continue to seek out the latest robust fintech and cyber solutions for trading and for their internal security requirements. With such a strong global reputation in this area, Northern Ireland businesses have a good basis on which to open dialogue and potentially secure contracts.
The three largest state governments of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland on the East Coast of Australia, as well as the New Zealand Government, are investing funds and resources to expand their creative sectors.
As a result, production and post-production companies in Sydney, Melbourne, and the Gold Coast of Australia, and Wellington (nicknamed Wellywood) in New Zealand, are seeking partnerships, technical assistance and expertise.
In particular, there are opportunities around production and post-production, especially in animation and visual effects, where Belfast is increasingly recognised as an emerging world player.
Whichever sector you operate in, I would encourage all export-ready Northern Irish companies seeking to expand their global sales to explore the opportunities Down Under.
Find a capable partner or distributor you feel comfortable with. Remember, they will be your brand ambassador while you are fast asleep on the other side of the world.
If you would like to explore breaking into this market, you can contact an Invest NI client manager or call our business support team on 0800 181 4422. Visit www.investni.com