Polyglot Group has been doing business with international & multicultural companies based in more than 50 countries all around the world for over 20 years.
In celebration of these partnerships, we will be promoting bilateral trades by interviewing some of the key players.
Keen to know more about the current challenges faced by the countries we are representing such as Latin America, Europe, Asia & the US, we are thrilled to share with you our interview with Jason Collins, Chief Executive Officer of European Australian Business Council (EABC).
Could you please introduce yourself and your organisation?
The European Australian Business Council (EABC) is an Australian-based organisation. Our sole objective is to promote trade, investment and commerce in the private sector between Australia and all of Europe. The EABC has a particular focus on the institutions of the European Union, and one of our primary areas of interest is how common EU policies affect the overall business environment.
We work with a range of other organisations who share our interests, such as bilateral chambers of individual European countries. One example of this collaborative work is the discussions we have held with the British Chamber around the implications of the Brexit.
Do you receive subsides or is the EABC membership based?
We receive funding from the private sector from our corporate members, and we do have a small membership which is made up largely of multinational Australian and European companies. All of our European members are also active in their respective bilateral chambers of commerce.
In addition to corporate members, the EABC has an extensive network of other members across Australia and Europe. These members include chambers, embassies and trade commissions. We are primarily focused on the various policies impacting these organisations, so we are interested in activities such as meetings between private sector leaders, public sector leaders, and senior officials.
We differ from traditional chambers in that we do not run activities or services such as networking, training, market analysis, all those kind of services which are more typical to chambers of commerce.
So one of your primary support mechanism is providing advice concerning policies?
To an extent, we are able to provide our members with solutions and several various networks to help them advance their business opportunities, but this direct support is not our primary focus. Our main business mission is to inform our members on the policy developments which are effecting the business environment in which they operate.
So are there companies that come to you directly with specific concerns?
Yes, companies do approach us with business operational matters or with specific business purposes such as obtaining background information for entering a new market. We can provide some general advice and also direct them to the most appropriate organisations such as a bilateral chamber, Austrade or other business consultants who can provide more of that in-depth service. So, we do provide some business operational support; but our primary function is providing advice on accessing the right resources needed to enter a market.
How many members do you have?
If we include our corporate members, we have approximately 50 members. In terms of our broader network of members – which include chambers, embassies, etcetera – the figure is approximately 300.
Are you a government subsidised organisation, or solely membership-based?
We are member-financed only. Funding is never supplied by any of our chamber members, nor by other non-corporate broader networks. We have a purely reciprocal relationship with those organisations, and so the entirety of our funding comes from our corporate members. We do not receive, nor do we seek, any kind of government funding from either Europe or Australia side. So, our operation is funded by membership, and occasionally from activities that we might have that generates some revenue as well.
You’re not like a classic trade organisation or a chamber of commerce as such, so what are the main activities that you’re are running?
The core of our operations is business forums, or business round-tables, which are shared discussions about key policy issues. Such issues for discussion are diverse and can include topics such as trade policy, competition policy and cyber-security. The business forums are about the full range of issues that naturally lend themselves to larger businesses rather than SMEs.
As the financial affairs risk is higher for SMEs, they are typically focused on immediate business operations and business opportunities—so we tend to concentrate on those things which large businesses are focused on: relationships, understanding government agendas plus understanding not only opportunities, but also threats in the business environments. Our programs are able to achieve these targets through our direct interaction between member companies, ministers, senior officials, visiting delegations from Europe and other global institutions such as the OECD or the WTO , etcetera.
Do you act as a support for lobbying?
Whilst we do not lobby on behalf of specific industries or specific companies, we are focused on the macro end of lobbying. The only occasion where we place greater emphasis upon advocacy, rather than lobbying is regarding the free trade and investment agenda with Europe. We strive to remove obstacles wherever they exist for companies to do business, and often these obstacles are very specific such as hindrances surrounding business migration or difficulties in bringing personnel or expertise to Australia. These are the specific issues we are concerned with— not the visa restrictions, but rather the implications and obstacles existing for business requirements and business relationships across sectors.
We strive to remove obstacles wherever they exist for companies to do business, and often these obstacles are very specific such as hindrances surrounding business migration or difficulties in bringing personnel or expertise to Australia. These are the specific issues we are concerned with— not the visa restrictions, but rather the implications and obstacles existing for business requirements and business relationships across sectors.
What are the main concerns and difficulties faced by European companies or bilateral trade organisations when they consider expanding to Australia?
I think the overwhelming message we have is that, for European companies, Australia has a very strong market. Australia bears the positive benefits of sound government institutions, good rule of law, and relative transparency to many any other parts of the law.
Despite these advantages, like many other markets, there are some industries which have been traditionally dominated by local players, making it hard for international companies to break into. Having said that, companies have not been deterred – they still are looking for opportunities in Australia. As a result, we still see a very competitive environment which it comes to major projects in public procurement, for example.
This constant competitive environment had led to difficulties – European companies which have been in Australia for 5 to 10 years are still experiencing ongoing challenges. Obtaining adequate skills and labour is also another primary challenge, die to difficulties in the visa administration, and in obtaining Australian recognition for skills or qualifications obtained in Europe.
What are the organisation’s main accomplishments since you took office?
Our annual business mission has been an extremely successful initiative in that it puts Australian company leaders in direct contact with semi-political and official decision makers in Brussels. We’ve met the president of the European Commission, the president of the European Council and other various commissioners who are running important agendas such as European transport, the Eurozone or European banking. We have also seen positive results from Australia, as it has demonstrated a much closer political and economic relationship with Europe.This strengthened relationship is vital for achieving unity and results when political issues arise.
This became apparent last year, when the Free Trade Agreement was raised by Prime Minister Turnbull with his counterparts at the EU level, and Presidents Tusk and Juncker were well prepared as the EU has been seeking to seeking to engage with their top leaders to achieve political as well as an economic working cooperation. Overall, I believe the strengthened relationship between Europe and Australia is creating profound benefits for both sides.
Are the companies that you guide usually looking to become established, or are they already set-up?
In most cases, they are already well established, as they need to be stable in their business before facing the complications of branching into new markets. As you can probably infer, EU policies are incredibly complex, and as companies are based in at least one EU-member state, they are significantly impacted by these EU regulations.
For these companies, various regulations such as changes in product standards, or even something as simple as labeling requirements can impact their business operations, so the business must be well-established in order to face these challenges.
However, I have experienced one well-known Australian company achieving large scale in the US and Asia, yet still decided against venturing into Europe. Despite this, the business still seized the opportunity to be guided by EABC, as they recognised the opportunity to gain a better understanding of launching their mission strategy.
Do you foresee some specific industries that are of particular interest to Australian companies who are going to Europe?
Whilst I do believe business potential and opportunities will vary from case-to-case, I am aware of some current Australian eminence in certain industries. Australian companies have prominence in the financial sector, especially in the UK due to the similar legal and business frameworks. From there, many of these companies have then branched out into other parts of Europe. In investment, many of Australia’s pension funds and other funds are buying assets right across continental Europe, such as airports, roadways and ports.
There is a multitude of strong Australian industries including construction and property, transport and logistics. In addition, Australia still has prominence in resources, as commodities such as gold and coal are being exported to Europe. Australia’s activity in the mining sector has recently led to prominence in other industries, such as world-class environmental management, engineering and resource software, with a lot of Australian companies expanding these markets in Europe.
What do you think the European Free Trade Agreement will bring to the table? Will it be a game-changer?
It will certainly be a game-changer in that it will create an architecture by which Australia and Europe will become more intensely involved in cooperation on economic issues. I believe that both Australia and Europe perceives a Free Trade Agreement as an initiator of more frequent and structured interactions so that common issues are also able to be addressed. Although Australia and Europe who has traditionally been viewed as opponents in terms of agricultural policy issues, interestingly Australia and Europe operated in cooperative and unified ways at the World Trade Organisation negotiations – we were able to find a way to work cooperatively in attempt to solve the bigger concerns which were raised.
Many of the issues do not solely lie between Australia and Europe, but rather throughout the rest of the world. One of the counter arguments is that as the world economy will inevitably become more intergraded. However, when it comes to the relationship between Australia and Europe, we share commonality in our perspectives and values. Although methodologies may differ, Australia and Europe have similar goals, such as what we desire from open markets and what we expect from surrounding consumer protection. I believe it makes perfect sense to work together, as other parts of the world will have very different concepts of how they see the operation of global markets.
“Although methodologies may differ, Australia and Europe have similar goals.”
I also believe the FTA will be a game changer as it will provide new opportunities in 3 primary ways. Firstly, a FTA will provide an opportunity to settle outstanding issues, such as traditional issues about market access. Secondly, a FTA will provide an opportunity for gaining better systems for regulatory cooperation and harmonisation so that time, money and resources are not lost in decision making where we share similar ideas about what the results should be. And then thirdly, a FTA will create a bigger global strategic view where Australia and Europe would sit side-by-side in terms of confronting the big global challenges.
So, overall I believe a FTA would be revolutionary and create valuable opportunities for Europe and Australia to work together on their shared goals.
“Although methodologies may differ, Australia and Europe have similar goals, such as what we desire from open markets and what we expect from surrounding consumer protection.”
Do you perceive any risks for Australia in terms of the introduced competitiveness resulting from the entry of European competitors?
No, I don’t see any great risks. As we already know, Australia has an open economy. Whilst there are behind border domestic impediments for those with open access, there are no formal impediments for a European company coming to Australia and competing on fair terms. There is a perception of risk surrounding the new competition where Australian companies once dominated.
So the only opportunities which, in a sense, operate in a more competitive environment, are those companies which have advanced technologies and innovation which are beyond that of Australia’s, however, these companies encourage Australian companies to reach new heights in order to compete.
Does this mean competitors will benefit too?
Yes, whilst there is a lot of attention paid to the negative consequences of globalisation, I think the de-legitimisation of local trade is a greater threat. I believe this is a greater risk, as there are some significant advantages globalisation has created which should not be undermined. All Western societies have seen or enjoyed the benefits of open markets and the increasing freedom of trade in terms of access to products and to services. Globalisation and trade has forced economies to innovate – overall, making economies more dynamic.
If you were to give advice, either to European companies coming to Australia, or Australian companies going to Europe, what kind of advice would you give them?
My first piece of advice is obvious: prepare very well, understand the market and understand the competitive environment for your products or for your goods and services.
I would also advise companies to reach out and seek good advice. I’ve always found that Austrade, embassies and also the trade commissions are very accessible, and sources of very good advice, so I would advise companies to use those networks. I would further encourage networking by suggesting that companies reach out to other businesses who are not necessarily working in the same particular industry, but are good potential partners to have in the market.
Alternatively, a business may choose to expand as a joint venture, so that they are as well-informed as possible before launching with what may be a costly and risky strategy. For some companies, these pieces of advice will be very obvious and they may already use these strategies, whilst other companies choose not to. So, overall, I would advise a business to seek good advice, and do thorough research before taking the leap. It is worth it in the long run.
In creating our Bilateral Trades Down Under Series, we would like to thank Jason Collins for taking the time to provide such an insightful interview. If you are interested in knowing more about what the Flanders Investment & Trade provides and how the organisation can help you, head over to their website www.eabc.com.au to find out more.