KEHLAN KIRWAN: Ireland can look to South-East Asia for new markets

Despite President Trump making noises over Chinese trade, there are many South-East Asian countries for Irish firms to seek out new markets, writes Kehlan Kirwan.

Someone once described the Irish as social chameleons.

The ability, no matter what part of the world, to make connections and blend in.

Over the past few years, Ireland has made amazing strides to develop its ties through the English-speaking world.

It was easier for us to follow the flow of ancestry and make connections with people whose roots came from here.

We leveraged our history to create our future.

But over the past year, there has been a need for a dramatic rethink of how Irish businesses see their future.

Brexit and president Trump have brought a realisation that relying on old connections may not be enough to make the business work in the years to come.

Both governments have big challenges ahead.

President Trump’s highly protectionist policies and Britain’s Theresa May’s desperation for any sort of trade deal with any country are going to leave them weaker.

We have often found safety in the harbour of the English-speaking sphere.

It was comfortable for Irish governments to develop those relationships, nothing to get lost in translation.

But now we are faced with a new problem.

Can we change our colours yet again and find new ways to bring in business?

Over the next decade, Irish firms are going to have to do more to develop relationships with countries.

That means doing more business with China, and India too.

By 2020, it is expected that India will have over 200 million people with middle-class spending salaries.

China already has 150 million middle-class earners and that section of the population is expected to skyrocket to over 500 million in the next decade.

The focus will be on developing relationships with the most obvious large countries.

However, it is the potential of the lesser-known emerging markets which may hold the key to Irish success.

For these new relationships to thrive, it means getting over language barriers and pushing into countries which may have seemed unheard of just a few years ago.

First up, there is Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. It has emerged from military rule to open up to the global economy.

Long-standing economic sanctions on the country have been lifted and its population of 50 million is developing new tastes to match this new openness.

Since 2010 the country has been on a track of developing its economy. Economists project 8% annual growth rates through 2020.

Economic progress is on track and it is emerging as one of the new economies to watch in the coming years.

Bangladesh has long been considered one of the poorest countries in Asia. It is, however, beginning on a steady incline and is posting 6% annual growth rates.

Half of its 170 million population are under the age of 25, and a huge workforce of 80 million people.

Growth means its GDP is rising rapidly and it could be become one of the largest economies in the world, in time.

With growth rates of 6.5%, the same story can be seen in the Philippines.

It has shot up the global league tables for the ease of doing business in recent years.

Its 100 million citizens mean there is a huge domestic market, encouraging outside firms to set up business there.

Despite an initial slow pace of reforms, Vietnam has emerged as a country luring investment projects from abroad.

While the government still controls about 40% of the local economy, reforms are encouraging privatisation and local ownership.

With a growing population of 95 million people, both the rate of private ownership and workforce continue to increase.

There are already a huge number of infrastructure projects and it is emerging as something of a small regional powerhouse.

The southeastern corridor of Asia is still relatively untapped, largely because it’s only now emerging from huge amounts of corruption and political instability.

While Europe, China, and India are places investors want to launch their products and services, many other countries in Asia have much to offer.

China has become the behemoth that brings most of Asia into its shadow.

But this emerging superpower faces a new era under President Trump who may start an Asian trade war.

What we’re seeing now are countries in the Asian sphere beginning to embrace many economic reforms which translates as embracing market-led economics.

This is giving us a new picture of the eastern arena, one which no longer requires passage to China for success.

As political and economic circumstances change in the world around us, it’s time to start looking at other markets.

Just a handful of Asian countries have between them more people than the US.

That should tell us that now, more than ever, we need to search out the markets that will be important for us in the future.

Leaning heavily on western markets will no longer do.

The challenges the world faces from protectionism in the US and the UK will get worse before they get better.

Irish firms need to make themselves aware that embracing new markets is the way to go.

The southern Asian corridor is emerging as one of the most important economic zones in the world.


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