AustCham Shanghai Chairman’s column: There’s more to Australian business in China than Mining


The Australia China Business Awards are a prime example of the diversity of Australian businesses operating – and experiencing success – on the ground in China, writes AustCham Shanghai Chairman, Peter Arkell.

At times, reading Australian media from here in China, I wonder if the place being reported is the same place in which I live and work. Certainly it is frustrating to see business sentiment, even share prices, move up or down based on the release of data in China. Taken out of context and in isolation, without regard to the overall business and economy, significant shifts in decision-making in Australia result and often these decisions are not firmly based on reality.
Earlier this year a report was released by the Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, that was based on a business sentiment survey of Australian businesses on the ground here in China. It was a jointly sponsored survey by Austrade and AustCham Greater China. The report is available from AustCham.
For me, there were two remarkable features emerging from the survey that run counter to conventional wisdom. Most significantly, there was an overwhelming positive outlook for these Australian businesses in their China operations – none of the “hard landing” perception that had been canvassed by China observers from their offices in Collins Street or Pitt Street. The view of business leaders actually working day to day inside the China economy was upbeat.
I was also struck by the make-up of the companies that contributed to the survey. Again, conventional wisdom as described in media back in Australia suggests that Australia’s business engagement with China is essentially the provision of commodities such as iron ore and other minerals. Yet, again remarkably, the mining sector represented only 3 percent of the respondents to the survey. I am not suggesting that this is the overall proportion of the mining industry in the Australian business community in China, but it does indicate that we have a diverse, broadly based and robust community of industries operating in China that are Australian.
AustCham Shanghai is, of course, well aware of that spread. We know how broadly based our membership is and how ingrained Australians are in the Chinese economy. It is a wonderful pool of knowledge and experience that should be tapped into more readily by analysts and commentators. Perhaps then the conventional wisdom and reality might be better aligned.
Demonstration of that broad based diversity will again be on show at the Westpac Australia China Business Awards. Nominations have been called and judging will soon be underway for the Westpac ACBA 2013. I am very lucky to have been a judge on two previous years’ Awards. It has been an honour to see up close the wonderful stories of success that Australian businesses have demonstrated year after year. This is a tough market and if he was around today, Frank Sinatra might say “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
Yet each year the ACBA provide great stories of Australians succeeding in this amazing market. And Australia can be proud of these Australian successes. susan_heffernen_soozar_acba_2010_web
Earlier I remarked that it is not only miners who are doing well here. Among the winners in the past couple of years, there have been big and small companies. Some who are entrepreneurs and others engaged in long-term stable businesses. BlueScope Steel have had some tough times in the domestic market, but here in China they were recognised for their business innovation. ANZ Bank had a win a couple of years ago for their success in reaching out to regions across China beyond Shanghai and Beijing. We are lucky to have wonderful entrepreneurs in Shanghai like Soozar, who develop innovative mannequins for the fashion industry and are sold into Milan and Paris. Anken Green are property developers bringing sustainable development to China.

*Pictured Right: Soozar’s Shanghai-based Susan Heffernan, a winner of the Westpac Australia China Business Awards: 2010.

Another previous winner is Wagas – a restaurant chain that brings Australian cafe culture to China and takes on the big international brands and wins. Cochlear is by far the market leader in its field in China. Spaceframe have taken their engineering capabilities across China and into Mongolia.
Again in 2013, a new batch of Australian businesses will be recognised as winners of a Westpac ACBA. It will be well worth much and continued celebration. The winners will be announced mid-year at a celebration of Australian business in Beijing. I am really looking forward to seeing who emerges this year. Keep an eye out for the Awards, because not only are there some mighty companies recognised as winners, but to get to these winners, many more companies have put themselves forward as nominations and each of these also have great stories to tell.austcham_sh_shanghai_greater_china_logo_web
Australia can be very proud of the businesses that are flying the flag here. Their success is providing a platform for others to follow. AustCham Shanghai, being the competitors that we are, will be well represented in the winners’ circle at the ACBA 2013 announcements. 

For more information about AustCham Shanghai, visit:


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