Are Victoria’s Super Trade Missions so super?

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With the third delegation heading to India in March, former AIBC president Harish Rao wonders if the whole exercise needs a rethink

Victoria’s coalition government got people talking when it announced its first ever super trade mission in 2012, flying more business leaders than ever before overseas as part of a $50 million plan to boost trade with Asia.

But with the third super trade mission to India due to take place in March, one international business expert believes the government needs to rethink its supersized idea.

“The type of trade missions that the Victorian government is running right now don’t work,” said Harish Rao, former Australia India Business Council (AIBC) president and current global head, business development at Sundaram Business Services Ltd.

“They’re trying to get as many companies to come to India as they can by offering some incentives like $3000 that covers their hotels and costs for a week.

“But it’s more like a type of PR exercise, saying ‘We’ve go the biggest trade mission going to India’.”

Rao said feedback he received from people who participated in the mega missions “hasn’t been that great, in terms of the benefits they’ve received”.

More than 300 representatives from companies and institutions took part in the first super mission in February 2012. The government said the six-day trip resulted in immediate sales of $3.46 million and expected sales of $355 million, while generating “hundreds of new jobs”.

But Rao, who travels to India regularly for business, said smaller more focussed missions with just six to 10 companies were far more effective.

“You’ll get much better leverage rather than trying to coordinate 200 people,” he said.

“Like, the functions they’ll have [during the mission] with 200 people – they’re actually no use, just a waste of money at the end of the day,” he said.

One business leader who says he has benefitted from the super trade missions is Sanjeev Singh, CEO/Director for Silk Education and Training.

Singhtook part in Victoria’s second super mission to India last year, and said it gave him a better understanding of the business environment on the ground.

“Super trade missions allow Australian companies to get an exposure of the Indian market in a well organised and safe environment,” said Singh.

Singh said the mission gave him the change to meet other businesses and local institutes looking to partner with Australian education providers.

Since the dawn of the Asian Century, the Victorian government has repeatedly stressed the importance of its relationship with India. The state shipped $392 million worth of exports to India in the year 2011-12, and wants to see this increase in the years ahead.

Rao said there were a number of things the government could do to improve its trade relationship with India further, including linking up with prominent Indian business people who already have ties in Victoria.

“Leading industrialists, people who can open doors in government and the private sector, people who are known in the business community in India – they’re the sort of people who’ll get a lot of traction and leverage for the state government,” he said.

Rao said these leaders could help out during trade missions, arrange appointments with local businesses and give Australians access to the cream of India’s corporate crop.

He also suggested Australia’s state government offices in India could be rolled into Austrade’s offices.

“I would think a better use of the tax payers money would be to have the Victorian representative inside the Austrade office, not running parallel organisations in India – because to be frank no-one knows Victoria there,” said Rao.

He added that every state government has a trade office so there’s millions of dollars of immediate potential savings without affecting the end result, which is important.

Rao said state and federal governments across Australia had made it clear India was a priority market but they were facing more global competition than ever before

“India has now reached a level that it is being taken seriously,” he said.

“What the Australian government has to understand is that every country in the world is now knocking on India’s door, not just Australia. Tony Abbot should be leading a business delegation to India as soon as possible. Only when the prime minister visits can you say Australia really is taking India seriously,” he said.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Australian Magazine)

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