Tamara Mellon and Theo Paphitis urge SMEs to explore Asia


Stars of the business world congregate to encourage SMEs to export to Asia

“Business isn’t complicated” was the opening remark made by Theo Paphitis when he addressed a packed (and rather chilly) Westminster City Hall for the UKTI’s Explore Asia conference today.

“Asia will soon dominate the world,” he continued. “Twenty million Vietnamese already have the same spending power as the average Australian.”

While business might not be complicated for the entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den star, we’re still not doing enough of it in Asia says UK Trade and Investment – the government body committed to helping UK business succeed overseas.

Currently Britain exports more to Ireland than it does to all of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) put together. Just three per cent of our exports go to China – we export the same amount to Belgium.

According to UKTI, by 2030 China’s cities will home a further 350 million people – more than the entire population of the US. To some these are sobering thoughts, to those speaking at Explore Asia, including BBC economics editor Stephanie Flanders, Tamara Mellon, RBS chief economist Andrew McLaughlin, Vince Cable and Chris Dodson – a tech entrepreneur who’s UK-based SME now exports to every continent in the world other than South America (which he’s working on), these statistics are exciting and inspiring.

SMEs must start exporting to Asia and UKTI is there to help, was the fundamental message of the day. Delegates taking part were subject to a series of classes, workshops and networking events aimed at helping them learn the necessary insights needed to begin expanding into Asia.

“Do your homework” was Paphitis primary message and use UKTI, “the UK’s best kept secret”. In fact this double edged compliment was consistently used when citing the department. The grants are there, the support is ready and waiting, now SMEs must step up take it – were words from many of the speakers.

While Paphitis hammered home business lessons for exporting to Asian countries, he didn’t, disappointingly, discuss his new venture Boux Avenue – the lingerie company that he set up following the sale of La Senza in 2006. Tamara Mellon on the other hand, gave an inspiring account of the Jimmy Choo story, focusing on the decisions she made to open a store in Hong Kong, being as it were back then the “gateway to China”.

RBS economist Andrew McLaughlin addressed the question on everybody lips – how sustainable is growth in the BRICs and other emerging economies? Growth rates will slow down he said, but this in itself will provide new avenues for British SMEs to exploit. The Chinese government, he predicted, will raise its minimum wage and will begin focusing more on education and health. While this might bring about a slowdown in GDP growth and raise inflation, it will provide opportunities in the health and education sectors and the “the poor will spend more”.

Education was another major theme to come out of the conference. Asian countries consider Britain as a leader when it comes to education, said Vince Cable delivering his keynote speech just before lunchtime. “We have an edge over the rest of Western world,” he said before moving on quickly to discuss the Mittelstand – Germany’s powerhouse of SMEs that drive the economy.

Cable wasn’t the only speaker to make comparisons with Germany. Lord Powell, the co-chair of the UKTI Asia Task Force programme pointed out that Germany exports four to five times more than the UK because, according to the Lord, “exporting is hard and they work much harder at it.”

UKTI Asia fact sheet

  • There are around 20 million people in Vietnam with a purchasing power equivalent to the average Australian citizen
  • Indonesia is a growing market for UK companies with a population of over 240 million and a growing affluent and aspirational middle class numbering 45 million – larger than that of India
  • The IMF predicted in October 2011 that growth in Taiwan will reach 10.8% in 2012, ahead of China at 9% and India at 7.5%
  • By 2030, China’s cities will be home to another 350 million people – more than the entire population of the USA
  • From January to September 2011, UK exports of goods to the Philippines amounted to £207 million
  • Singapore has consistently ranked number one  globally by the World Bank in its annual ‘Ease of Doing Business’ report
  • Value sales of food and beverage products through modern retail outlets in Malaysia are forecast to increase by 36.9% by 2013
  • Indonesia has the 2nd largest number of Facebook users (35,806,120 subscribers in September 2011); 47% of the population of Jakarta have smart phones
  • Direct flights between Vietnam and UK began on 8 December 2011
  • Taipei in Taiwan is the third-richest city in Asia, ahead of both Singapore and Hong Kong 
  • For the period January to September 2011, UK exports of goods to Vietnam amounted to £225 million, an increase of 4 per cent year-on-year
  • The Greater Tokyo region in Japan has an bigger economy than Russia 
  • Taiwan has developed one of the most advanced telecommunications networks in Asia and wireless penetration has almost reached saturation levels. The country aims to become the first in the world that is entirely wireless.
  • Vietnam has been predicted to enjoy the highest projected annual growth of 8.8% by 2050, surpassing India and China
  • China is the world’s largest mobile phone market, with nearly  900 million subscribers
  • South Korea is the most wired country in the world – 100MB broadband is common
  • With a population of 98 million the Philippines is one of the largest English speaking countries in the world
  • Japan has 20% of the global R&D spend and is the UK’s largest export market after Europe and the USA
  • UK exports of goods to Hong Kong were valued at £3.6. billion for the first nine months of 2011, making Hong Kong the UK’s 3rd largest market in Asia (after the Mainland and India)
  • The South Korean fashion market is currently valued at approx £17 billion
  • Tesco is the largest UK investor in Thailand with over 660 stores across the country
  • Hong Kong’s per capita Gross Domestic Product ranks 7th highest in the world and ranked as the world’s freest economy by the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation for the 18th consecutive year
  • China has 175 commercial airports, set to increase to 244 by 2020
  • The World Economic Forum’s World Competitiveness Report ranks Taiwan eighth in the world for R&D
  • India has the youngest working population in the world (50% of India’s population are under 25 years)
  • A new free trade agreement between the EU and the Republic of Korea which provisionally came into effect on 1 July 2011 has the potential to benefit the UK by £500 million annually, by removing 97% of tariffs in just 3 years
  • The Philippines is the shopping paradise of SE Asia – of the world’s 10 largest shopping malls in terms of floor area, 3 are located in Metro Manila.
  • The Malaysian education and training market is worth £240 million a year to the UK.
  • Thailand’s economy within the ASEAN is in the top three in terms of size and volume of international trade
  • Malaysia is the world’s largest producer of computer disk drives and rubber
  • About half of the world’s population is within 5 hours’ flying time of Hong Kong