David J Birrell: Booming Asia is the big prize for Scottish business
During this year it is expected that Asia’s GDP will overtake the GDP of the rest of the world combined. By 2030, the region is expected to contribute roughly 60 per cent of global growth, providing endless opportunities for our next generation of leaders and businesses in Scotland.
The challenge is however, whether levels of ambition are unleashed and market insight pro-actively shared effectively across different business sectors to ensure government resources, both at a UK and Scotland level, are aligned to optimise a share of this great prize.
Unfortunately our track record so far in Scotland is weaker than many other regions of the UK. No Asian country is included in Scotland’s current top 10 export markets and, whilst we like to pride ourselves on being an international country, unfortunately this is not yet reflected in our economy.
Although we face a frustrating and disappointing position, there are many businesses determined to make a difference. As Asia-Pacific will be responsible for the overwhelming majority (90 per cent) of the 2.4 billion new members of the middle class entering the global economy, this provides major opportunities for those businesses focused on premium products and services in particular.
The food and drink industry continues to build significant growth opportunities in Asian markets. Boasting clear, clean mountain waters, unpolluted air and a fertile landscape, Scotland champions the provenance of its premium products and the skills of our talented producers, which account for one in five manufacturing jobs.
A new generation of Scottish producers and food technologists continue to build a stronger market presence. This includes Japan, one of the largest consumers of seafood in the world, where Scottish products satisfy their appetite for high quality, sustainable and traceable goods. With extra support from government providing in-market specialists, there is a growing opportunity to forge stronger trading relationships and to consolidate resources in promoting the benefits of sourcing high quality food and drink from Scotland.
More than 70 countries across the world also benefit from Scotland’s knowledge of renewable energy. The skills and products being developed here in Scotland are having a positive impact far beyond our borders and several Asian countries benefit from market-leading emerging renewable technologies supported by a highly skilled academic base. The ground work is already evident in our university sector where partnerships in Asia are at an all-time high, creating world class research partnerships. This stronger integration of research will lead to deeper understanding of future opportunities.
We still have at our disposal some great brands which have pioneered world class education and continue to extend their reach into new Asian markets. A great example is Heriot-Watt University, established in 1821, creating the world’s first mechanics institute and now Scotland’s most international university. I recently visited the campus in Malaysia and witnessed the enterprising approach in educating the next generation of engineers and a course structure that allows Scottish students to complete part of their studies at the newly developed campus in Kuala Lumpur.
A critical success factor to build stronger momentum and optimise impact is the sharing of insight and the opportunity to access unique high profile sources of expertise. Organisations such as the Asia Scotland Institute continue to build programmes that provide this insight from global business leaders and Asia experts. Together with the world of business, academia and government, supported by a growing network of student ambassadors, the Institute aims to stimulate curiosity and foster an environment to promote the exchange of knowledge.
With greater communication and co-ordination of government activity at all levels, from local councils to Westminster, there is the opportunity to provide an even bigger impact with public sector financial resources already available for investment. There also needs to be greater awareness of the support available and a much more collaborative approach between the many different support organisations funded by governments in many different ways.
Whilst we currently face unprecedented levels of disruption in international trade, now is the time for these organisations to take stock and challenge each other on how we optimise opportunities in Asia. We all share the same passion to inspire the next generation to engage with Asia – let us be equally inspired to work more closely together and create a world class collaborative approach.
Asia has become the main growth engine of the world. Scotland must maximise every opportunity.
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