Australia Week in China 2016: Reflections by Prerana Mehta

Australia Week in China (AWIC) was the largest business mission ever organised by Austrade, consisting of almost 1000 delegates from around 750 companies. One of the key organisers of AWIC was Prerana Mehta (2014 Alumni, Asialink Leaders Program).

Prerana is Director, International Trade and Development at The Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) and also Trade Commissioner-designate, Singapore.

Australia Week in China 2016

1.    What was the main purpose of AWIC?

Australia Week in China (AWIC) held from 11-15 April 2016, demonstrated the Australian Government’s commitment to strengthening and building on the political and economic relationship in trade, investment, education and tourism with China. Held across 12 cities, AWIC was the largest ever business mission to leave Australian shores – the majority of the almost 750 companies that participated in the delegation were small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).  Eight sector specific programmes were designed to match Australia’s capability with China’s demand for quality Australian products, expertise and services. AWIC provided businesses with the opportunity to better understand and leverage the benefits of the recently concluded China Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA), and explore real business opportunities through a comprehensive programme of briefings, site visits and networking sessions.  With almost every country knocking on China’s door – AWIC was about reinforcing and maintaining Australia’s competitive edge in the world’s biggest market.  

2.    What do you see as the key outcomes and next steps?

Participants attended AWIC with a number of objectives in mind ranging from exploration and research, developing a business plan or strategy, expanding business contacts, building networks, raising their business profile, winning new export or investment business opportunities.  Survey results conducted independently and immediately at the conclusion of AWIC, show that 75 per cent of delegates had met all or most of their objectives.  In addition, 76 per cent indicated that they would return to China to pursue opportunities identified during AWIC. So from a business perspective, that is already a good outcome.  From a Government perspective, the strong participation from Federal, State and Territory leaders gave a consistent message to both the Chinese Government and business community that Australia is serious and ready to partner in the most exciting and fastest-growing part of the global economy.  A number of commercial agreements were signed during and immediately after AWIC, however the reality is that outcomes take more than just a quick visit.  The next challenge is for businesses to maximise on the visit and follow-through on the contacts and meetings that they made. That is where Austrade can assist – our offices across China have the expertise and knowledge to work with companies to help them find their niche, work out how to get into the market and how to be competitive.

3.    How do you think individuals and/or Australian businesses can make a stronger contribution to relations with China?

Knowledge. Our relationship with China has been built over a long time and is deepening – the ChAFTA agreement is case in point.  We cooperate across a range of regional and global issues and individuals and Australian businesses can contribute in multiple ways to build the Australia-China relationship. Learning about the people, the rich culture, the language, and the way that business and government operate are key elements in understanding the differences, the commonalities and opportunities. Welcome students. Be a tourist. Observe the Chinese arts. Participate and make informed decisions.  As a business, you need to know about the complexities in the market, the trends and how to differentiate yourself in a highly competitive and rapidly changing environment. 

4.    What key Asia capabilities did you learn during the Asialink Leaders Program that you found useful in your role as a key organiser of AWIC?

Being part of the project management team on this grand scale can at times be overwhelming – it is huge. I’ve done a few Australia Week events over the last 18 months, in India, Indonesia and USA, and each time I learn something new.  Every country is different, each has a unique culture and modus operandi.  Planning - outlining the governance structure, roles and responsibilities, timelines and key milestones – is essential. Then communicating clearly and early with stakeholders to get everyone on the same page is critical. Sounds like project management 101, but when you’re doing this across multiple stakeholders, cities, organisations, cultures (Hong Kong is very different to Hangzhou!), it can get a little tricky! As an Asialink Leader, core capabilities I applied were around confidently communicating and coordinating across various platforms and cultures.

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Heather Chai

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