The report – Te Waipounamu and Asia: South Island business connections with Asia now and in the future – also highlights the difficulties faced by businesses wanting to do more with Asia, but not always having the right skills or connections to make it happen.
The Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono commissioned Christchurch-based research company, Research First, to survey South Island-headquartered businesses for the report. Research First spoke to 115 companies with existing links to Asia and 35 that were considering establishing links.
Of those with existing links, 71 percent said they wanted to grow their business in Asia further. And 61 percent rated Asian business connections as being either “very important” or “important” to their companies.
“This report really drives home that Asia is at the heart of business success for many South Island companies,” says Alistair Crozier, director of the Foundation’s business programme and manager of its South Island office.
"It also moves beyond some of the cliches and highlights how diverse the South Island’s business links to Asia really are. Although the primary sector and tourism are a big part of the picture, the report also surveyed businesses working in manufacturing, professional services, retail and construction.”
Most South Island businesses with existing links to Asia had well-established connections – 70 percent had been connected for at least five years, including 57 percent that had connections going back more than a decade.
The report highlights the importance of personal connections and networking. Asked about the most useful forms of support and advice when establishing links with Asia, South Island companies named working with existing Asian business partners, attending trade expos, cold-calling suppliers and distributors, and using personal and professional contacts as important tools.
“We know that South Island businesses will be keen to start travelling to Asia as soon as they can,” says Alistair Crozier. “It’s clear that face-to-face connections and time spent visiting Asian markets are at the heart of New Zealand’s business success in the region.”
But he adds that there are lots of resources for South Island businesses to draw on even while they can’t travel, including government agencies, chambers of commerce, diaspora communities, Asia-savvy graduates and international students, and New Zealanders returned from Asia.
“It was interesting to see that the report identifies a lack of language capability and a lack of detailed market knowledge as the two biggest challenges South Island businesses faced in establishing links.
“New Zealanders underrate the value of Asia-related capabilities. There are many ways to grow your own language capabilities, or to work with diaspora communities here for expertise.
“And companies in one sector are often happy to help others with advice on markets they’ve entered. Start-ups working in game development or health tech can still learn from established exporters in the primary sector, for instance.”
Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper says the report highlights that the New Zealand-Asia relationship is not just an Auckland or Wellington story. “The South Island is a really big player when it comes to New Zealand’s engagement with Asia.
“Many South Island companies have gained new opportunities from their links to Asia and owe their business success to these links. And we also know from our own work that many Asian business contacts have invested in New Zealand precisely because of their affection for the South Island.
“It’s a reminder that New Zealand needs to work particularly hard on maintaining these connections at this time of constrained travel.”
The report also incorporates a section of tips and resources for businesses wanting to engage with Asia, and statistics about growth projections for the region.