Asia is resolutely open for business for Irish companies. That was the clear lesson learned during Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s visit to Japan and Singapore last month.
While pandemic-related restrictions on tourists remain in some countries, business travellers are welcome to visit these rapidly growing export markets and join the ranks of leading Irish companies successfully winning in the region, such as Kingspan, Morgan McKinley and ICON PLC.
A G7 country and the world’s third largest economy, Japan is home to 125m people, so the market presents significant ongoing opportunities for Irish exporters, says Neil Cooney, Director, Japan, Enterprise Ireland.
“In fact, the recent Enterprise Ireland Annual Business Review for 2021, confirmed that exports from Enterprise Ireland-backed companies to Japan increased to record levels last year,” he says. “They reached an all-time high of €277m, which represented an increase of 11.1 percent on the previous year.“
There are approximately 200 Enterprise Ireland-supported client companies regularly exporting to Japan, with more than 50 local presences established to support their growth in the market and employing up to 2,000 people in Japan.
Japan seeks green and digital innovation
Digital transformation is a core focus for Japan, meaning the government and private sector there are keen to discover innovative solutions in this area.
As in so many other markets around the world, sustainability is also high on the agenda there, with digital and data-driven green solutions in high demand. This adds to the opportunities for well-established firms in life sciences, fintech, software, and advanced manufacturing.
The Taoiseach led the Irish delegation on the visit to the region in July and was warmly welcomed by Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida in Tokyo. During the visit, both countries signed a joint declaration on economic collaboration and co-operation, entitled “Taking Forward Partnership with Shared Ambition”.
While in Japan, the Taoiseach hosted roundtables with Enterprise Ireland client companies to recognise significant market milestones and achievements.
“These included a new office opening in Japan for energy tech firm GridBeyond, a new partnership for infrastructure automation specialists Ubiqube with Japanese firm Alaxala and ICON PLC’s major acquisition in Japan and plans to scale in the market,” says Cooney.
Singapore an ideal launching pad for Southeast Asia
From Japan, the Taoiseach travelled to Singapore, where he met Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong.
Exports to Southeast Asia rose by 8% to €392m in 2021, with Singapore accounting for €116million of that and seeing a rise in exports from Irish companies of 10 percent on the previous year.
“While Singapore is a relatively small island nation of 5m people, English is widely spoken there making it an ideal launching pad for Irish companies to enter the massive trading bloc of Southeast Asia,” says Kevin Ryan, Director, ASEAN, Enterprise Ireland.
This region is home to over 682 million people and includes huge markets such as Indonesia (273m people), Vietnam (97m people) and Thailand (70m people).
“Fintech, regtech, pharma and health tech are key sectors in Singapore, along with high-tech construction, education and food, while agritech is also a huge opportunity as you go further into Southeast Asia,” explains Ryan.
During the visit, nine Irish companies participated in contract signings in Singapore. These included PM Group, which is supporting a first-of-its-kind vaccine plant in Singapore, along with ICDL, Intuition Publishing, Know Your Customer, NUIG, CurrencyFair (Zai), Aero Inspection, Ubiqube and Mackin EHS.
Understanding local market norms
To operate in Japan and Southeast Asia, Irish exporters need to expect they will have to operate differently than they may do in other export markets in Europe or North America. They will need to be respectful of local business norms and cultural nuances, for example. The Enterprise Ireland teams on the ground regularly provide local support and advice on this front.
It’s also vital to have sufficient financial resources to commit to the market, win business and be highly responsive to customers. To make any headway, Irish firms typically find they need to set up a direct market presence and hire locally.
This effort pays off, however, for Irish firms that gain traction in the region. At least 300 Irish companies are exporting to Southeast Asia, while about 200 are active in Japan, with 50 or so of those having a local presence.
“For any companies interested in exporting to APAC markets, there’s one key question – are you world class in what you do? Those who can confidently answer that they are should talk to Enterprise Ireland to assess potential opportunities in the region,” says Cooney.